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Title: The Secret Battle
Author: Herbert, A. P.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          THE SECRET BATTLE

                           BY A. P. HERBERT

                     AUTHOR OF 'THE BOMBER GYPSY'


    METHUEN & CO. LTD.
    36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
    LONDON

    _First Published in 1919_



THE SECRET BATTLE



I


I am going to write down some of the history of Harry Penrose, because I
do not think full justice has been done to him, and because there must
be many other young men of his kind who flung themselves into this war
at the beginning of it, and have gone out of it after many sufferings
with the unjust and ignorant condemnation of their fellows. At times, it
may be, I shall seem to digress into the dreary commonplaces of all
war-chronicles, but you will never understand the ruthless progression
of Penrose's tragedy without some acquaintance with each chapter of his
life in the army.

       *       *       *       *       *

He joined the battalion only a few days before we left Plymouth for
Gallipoli, a shy, intelligent-looking person, with smooth, freckled skin
and quick, nervous movements; and although he was at once posted to my
company we had not become at all intimate when we steamed at last into
Mudros Bay. But he had interested me from the first, and at intervals in
the busy routine of a troopship passing without escort through submarine
waters, I had been watching him and delighting in his keenness and happy
disposition.

It was not my first voyage through the Mediterranean, though it was the
first I had made in a transport, and I liked to see my own earlier
enthusiasm vividly reproduced in him. Cape Spartel and the first glimpse
of Africa; Tangiers and Tarifa and all that magical hour's steaming
through the narrow waters with the pink and white houses hiding under
the hills; Gibraltar Town shimmering and asleep in the noonday sun;
Malta and the bumboat women, carozzes swaying through the narrow,
chattering streets; cool drinks at cafés in a babel of strange tongues;
all these were to Penrose part of the authentic glamour of the East; and
he said so. I might have told him, with the fatuous pomp of wider
experience, that they were in truth but a very distant reflection of the
genuine East; but I did not. For it was refreshing to see any one so
frankly confessing to the sensations of adventure and romance. To other
members of the officers' mess the spectacle of Gibraltar from the sea
may have been more stimulating than the spectacle of Southend (though
this is doubtful); but it is certain that few of them would have
admitted the grave impeachment.

At Malta some of us spent an evening ashore, and sat for a little in a
tawdry, riotous little café, where two poor singing women strove vainly
to make themselves heard above the pandemonium of clinked glasses and
bawled orders; there we met many officers newly returned from the
landing at Cape Helles, some of them with slight bodily wounds, but all
of them with grievous injury staring out of their eyes. Those of them
who would speak at all were voluble with anecdotes of horror and blood.
Most of our own party had not yet lost the light-hearted mood in which
men went to the war in those days; the 'picnic' illusion of war was not
yet dispelled; also, individually, no doubt, we had that curious
confidence of the unblooded soldier that none of these strange, terrible
things could ever actually happen to _us_; we should for ever hang upon
the pleasant fringes of war, sailing in strange seas, and drinking in
strange towns, but never definitely entangled in the more crude and
distasteful circumstances of battle. And if there were any of us with a
secret consciousness that we deceived ourselves, to-night was no time to
tear away the veil. Let there be lights and laughter and wine;
to-morrow, if need be, let us be told how the wounded had drowned in the
wired shallows, and reckon the toll of that unforgettable exploit and
the terrors that were still at work. And so we would not be dragooned
into seriousness by these messengers from the Peninsula; but rather,
with no injury to their feelings, laughed at their croakings and
continued to drink.

But Harry Penrose was different. He was all eagerness to hear every
detail, hideous and heroic.

There was one officer present, from the 29th Division, a man about
thirty, with a tanned, melancholy face and great solemn eyes, which, for
all the horrors he related, seemed to have something yet more horrible
hidden in their depths. Him Harry plied with questions, his reveller's
mood flung impatiently aside; and the man seemed ready to tell him
things, though from his occasional reservations and sorrowful smile I
knew that he was pitying Harry for his youth, his eagerness and his
ignorance.

Around us were the curses of overworked waiters, and the babble of loud
conversations, and the smell of spilt beer; there were two officers
uproariously drunk, and in the distance pathetic snatches of songs were
heard from the struggling singer on the dais. We were in one of the
first outposts of the Empire, and halfway to one of her greatest
adventures. And this excited youth at my side was the only one of all
that throng who was ready to hear the truth of it, and to speak of
death. I lay emphasis on this incident, because it well illustrates his
attitude towards the war at that time (which too many have now
forgotten), and because I then first found the image which alone
reflects the many curiosities of his personality.

He was like an imaginative, inquisitive child; a child that cherishes a
secret gallery of pictures in its mind, and must continually be feeding
this storehouse with new pictures of the unknown; that is not content
with a vague outline of something that is to come, a dentist, or a
visit, or a doll, but will not rest till the experience is safely put
away in its place, a clear, uncompromising picture, to be taken down and
played with at will.

Moreover, he had the fearlessness of a child--but I shall come to that
later.

And so we came to Mudros, threading a placid way between the deceitful
Aegean Islands. Harry loved them because they wore so green and inviting
an aspect, and again I did not undeceive him and tell him how parched
and austere, how barren of comfortable grass and shade he would find
them on closer acquaintance. We steamed into Mudros Bay at the end of an
unbelievable sunset; in the great harbour were gathered regiments of
ships--battleship, cruiser, tramp, transport, and trawler, and as the
sun sank into the western hills, the masts and the rigging of all of
them were radiant with its last rays, while all their decks and hulls
lay already in the soft blue dusk. There is something extraordinarily
soothing in the almost imperceptible motion of a big steamer gliding at
slow speed to her anchorage; as I leaned over the rail of the boat-deck
and heard the tiny bugle-calls float across from the French or English
warships, and watched the miniature crews at work upon their decks, I
became aware that Penrose was similarly engaged close at hand, and it
seemed to me an opportunity to learn something of the history of this
strange young man.

Beginning with his delight in the voyage and all the marvellous romance
of our surroundings, I led him on to speak of himself. Both his parents
had died when he was a boy at school. They had left him enough to go to
Oxford upon (without the help of the Exhibition he had won), and he had
but just completed his second year there when the war broke out. For
some mysterious reason he had immediately enlisted instead of applying
for a commission, like his friends. I gathered--though not from anything
he directly said--that he had had a hard time in the ranks. The majority
of his companions in training had come down from the north with the
first draft of Tynesiders; and though, God knows, the Tynesider as a
fighting man has been unsurpassed in this war, they were a wild, rough
crowd before they became soldiers, and I can understand that for a
high-strung, sensitive boy of his type the intimate daily round of
eating, talking, and sleeping with them, must have made large demands on
his patriotism and grit. But he said it did him good; and it was only
the pestering of his guardian and relations that after six months forced
him to take a commission. He had a curious lack of confidence in his
fitness to be an officer--a feeling which is deplorably absent in
hundreds not half as fit as he was; but from what I had seen of his
handling of his platoon on the voyage (and the men are difficult after a
week or two at sea) I was able to assure him that he need have no
qualms. He was, I discovered, pathetically full of military ambitions;
he dreamed already, he confessed, of decorations and promotions and
glorious charges. In short, he was like many another undergraduate
officer of those days in his eagerness and readiness for sacrifice, but
far removed from the common type in his romantic, imaginative outlook
towards the war. 'Romantic' is the only word, I think, and it is
melancholy for me to remember that even then I said to myself, 'I wonder
how long the romance will last, my son.'

But I could not guess just how terrible was to be its decay.


II

We were not to be long at Mudros. For three days we lay in the
sweltering heat of the great hill-circled bay, watching the warships
come and go, and buying fruit from the little Greek sailing boats which
fluttered round the harbour. These were days of hot anxiety about one's
kit; hourly each officer reorganized and re-disposed his exiguous
belongings, and re-weighed his valise, and jettisoned yet more precious
articles of comfort, lest the weight regulations be violated and for the
sake of an extra shirt the whole of one's equipment be cast into the sea
by the mysterious figure we believed to watch over these things.
Afterwards we found that all our care was in vain, and in the
comfortless camps of the Peninsula bitterly bewailed the little luxuries
we had needlessly left behind, now so unattainable. Down in the odorous
troop-decks the men wrote long letters describing the battles in which
they were already engaged, and the sound of quite mythical guns.

But on the third day came our sailing orders. In the evening a little
trawler, promoted to the dignity of a fleet-sweeper, came alongside, and
all the regiment of gross, overloaded figures, festooned with armament
and bags of food, and strange, knobbly parcels, tumbled heavily over the
side. Many men have written of the sailing of the first argosy of
troopships from that bay; and by this time the spectacle of departing
troops was an old one to the vessels there. But this did not diminish
the quality of their farewells. All the King's ships 'manned ship' as we
passed, and sent us a great wave of cheering that filled the heart with
sadness and resolution.

In one of the French ships was a party of her crew high up somewhere
above the deck, and they sang for us with astonishing accuracy and
feeling the 'Chant du Départ'; so moving was this that even the stolid
Northerners in our sweeper were stirred to make some more articulate
acknowledgment than the official British cheer; and one old pitman,
searching among his memories of some Lancashire music-hall, dug out a
rough version of the 'Marseillaise.' By degrees all our men took up the
tune and sang it mightily, with no suspicion of words; and the officers,
not less timidly, joined in, and were proud of the men for what they had
done. For many were moved in that moment who were never moved before.
But while we were yet warm with cheering and the sense of knighthood, we
cleared the boom and shivered a little in the breeze of the open sea.

The sun went down, and soon it was very cold in the sweeper: and in each
man's heart I think there was a certain chill. There were no more songs,
but the men whispered in small groups, or stood silent, shifting
uneasily their wearisome packs. For now we were indeed cut on from
civilization and committed to the unknown. The transport we had left
seemed a very haven of comfort and security; one thought longingly of
white tables in the saloon, and the unfriendly linen bags of bully-beef
and biscuits we carried were concrete evidence of a new life. The war
seemed no longer remote, and each of us realized indignantly that we
were personally involved in it. So for a little all these soldiers had a
period of serious thought unusual in the soldier's life. But as we
neared the Peninsula the excitement and novelty and the prospect of
exercising cramped limbs brought back valour and cheerfulness.

At Malta we had heard many tales of the still terrifying ordeal of
landing under fire. But such terrors were not for us. There was a bright
moon, and as we saw the pale cliffs of Cape Helles, all, I think,
expected each moment a torrent of shells from some obscure quarter. But
instead an unearthly stillness brooded over the two bays, and only a
Morse lamp blinking at the sweeper suggested that any living thing was
there. And there came over the water a strange musty smell; some said it
was the smell of the dead, and some the smell of an incinerator; myself
I do not know, but it was the smell of the Peninsula for ever, which no
man can forget. We disembarked at a pier of rafts by the _River Clyde_,
and stumbled eagerly ashore. And now we were in the very heart of heroic
things. Nowhere, I think, was the new soldier plunged so suddenly into
the genuine scenes of war as he was at Gallipoli; in France there was a
long transition of training-camps and railway trains and billets, and he
moved by easy gradations to the firing-line. But here, a few hours after
a night in linen sheets, we stood suddenly on the very sand where, but
three weeks before, those hideous machine-guns in the cliffs had mown
down that astonishing party of April 25. And in that silver stillness it
was difficult to believe.

We shambled off up the steady slope between two cliffs, marvelling that
any men could have prevailed against so perfect a 'field of fire.' By
now we were very tired, and it was heavy work labouring through the soft
sand. Queer, Moorish-looking figures in white robes peered at us from
dark corners, and here and there a man poked a tousled head from a hole
in the ground, and blinked upon our progress. Some one remarked that it
reminded him of nothing so much as the native camp at Earl's Court on a
fine August evening, and that indeed was the effect.

After a little the stillness was broken by a sound which we could not
conceal from ourselves was 'the distant rattle of musketry'; somewhere a
gun fired startlingly; and now as we went each man felt vaguely that at
any minute we might be plunged into the thick of a battle, laden as we
were, and I think each man braced himself for a desperate struggle. Such
is the effect of marching in the dark to an unknown destination. Soon we
were halted in a piece of apparently waste land circled by trees, and
ordered to dig ourselves a habitation at once, for 'in the morning' it
was whispered 'the Turks search all this ground.' Everything was said in
a kind of hoarse, mysterious whisper, presumably to conceal our
observations from the ears of the Turks five miles away. But then we did
not know they were five miles away; we had no idea where they were or
where we were ourselves. Men glanced furtively at the North Star for
guidance, and were pained to find that, contrary to their military
teaching, it told them nothing. Even the digging was carried on a little
stealthily till it was discovered that the Turks were not behind those
trees. The digging was a comfort to the men, who, being pitmen, were now
in their element; and the officers found solace in whispering to each
other that magical communication about the prospective 'searching'; it
was the first technical word they had used 'in the field,' and they were
secretly proud to know what it meant.

In a little the dawn began, and the grey trees took shape; and the sun
came up out of Asia, and we saw at last the little sugar-loaf peak of
Achi Baba, absurdly pink and diminutive in the distance. A man's first
frontal impression of that great rampart, with the outlying slopes
masking the summit, was that it was disappointingly small; but when he
had lived under and upon it for a while, day by day, it seemed to grow
in menace and in bulk, and ultimately became a hideous, overpowering
monster, pervading all his life; so that it worked upon men's nerves,
and almost everywhere in the Peninsula they were painfully conscious
that every movement they made could be watched from somewhere on that
massive hill.

But now the kitchens had come, and there was breakfast and viscous,
milkless tea. We discovered that all around our seeming solitude the
earth had been peopled with sleepers, who now emerged from their holes;
there was a stir of washing and cooking and singing, and the smoke went
up from the wood fires in the clear, cool air. D Company officers made
their camp under an olive-tree, with a view over the blue water to
Samothrace and Imbros, and now in the early cool, before the sun had
gathered his noonday malignity, it was very pleasant. At seven o'clock
the 'searching' began. A mile away, on the northern cliffs, the first
shell burst, stampeding a number of horses. The long-drawn warning
scream and the final crash gave all the expectant battalion a faintly
pleasurable thrill, and as each shell came a little nearer the sensation
remained. No one was afraid; without the knowledge of experience no one
could be seriously afraid on this cool, sunny morning in the grove of
olive-trees. Those chill hours in the sweeper had been much more
alarming. The common sensation was: 'At last I am really under fire;
to-day I shall write home and tell them about it.' And then, when it
seemed that the line on which the shells were falling must, if
continued, pass through the middle of our camp, the firing mysteriously
ceased.

Harry, I know, was disappointed; personally, I was pleased.

       *       *       *       *       *

I learned more about Harry that afternoon. He had been much exhausted by
the long night, but was now refreshed and filled with an almost childish
enthusiasm by the pictorial attractions of the place. For this
enthusiastic soul one thing only was lacking in the site of the camp:
the rise of the hill which here runs down the centre of the Peninsula,
hid from us the Dardanelles. These, he said, must immediately be viewed.
It was a bright afternoon of blue skies and gentle air,--not yet had the
dry north-east wind come to plague us with dust-clouds,--and all the
vivid colours of the scene were unspoiled. We walked over the hill
through the parched scrub, where lizards darted from under our feet and
tortoises lay comatose in the scanty shade, and came to a kind of inland
cliff, where the Turks had had many riflemen at the landing, for all the
ground was littered with empty cartridges. And there was unfolded surely
the most gorgeous panorama this war has provided for prosaic Englishmen
to see. Below was a cool, inviting grove of imperial cypresses; all
along the narrow strip between us and the shore lay the rest-lines of
the French, where moved lazy figures in blue and red, and black
Senegalese in many colours. To the left was the wide sweep of Morto Bay,
and beyond the first section of Achi Baba rising to De Tott's Battery in
terraces of olives and vines. But what caught the immediate eye, what we
had come to see and had sailed hither to fight for, was that strip of
unbelievably blue water before us, deep, generous blue, like a Chinese
bowl. On the farther shore, towards the entrance to the Straits, we
could see a wide green plain, and beyond and to the left, peak after
peak of the mountains of Asia; and far away in the middle distance there
was a glint of snow from some regal summit of the Anatolian Mountains.

That wide green plain was the Plain of Troy. The scarcity of classical
scholars in Expeditionary Forces, and the wearisome observations of
pressmen on the subject of Troy, have combined to belittle the
significance of the classical surroundings of the Gallipoli campaign. I
myself am a stolid, ill-read person, but I confess that the spectacle of
those historic flats was not one, in diplomatic phrase, which I could
view with indifference. On Harry, ridiculously excited already, the
effect was almost alarming. He became quite lyrical over two little
sweepers apparently anchored near the mouth of the Straits. 'That,' he
said, 'must have been where the Greek fleet lay. God! it's wonderful.'
Up on the slope towards De Tott's Battery the guns were busy, and now
and then Asiatic Annie sent over a large shell from the region of
Achilles' tomb, which burst ponderously in the sea off Cape Helles. And
there we sat on the rough edge of the cliff and talked of Achilles and
Hector and Diomed and Patroclus and the far-sounding bolts of Jove. I do
not defend or exalt this action; but this is a truthful record of a
man's personality, and I simply state what occurred. And I confess that
with the best wish in the world I was myself becoming a little bored
with Troy, when in the middle of a sentence he suddenly became silent
and gazed across the Straits with a fixed, pinched look in his face,
like a man who is reminded of some far-off calamity he had forgotten.
For perhaps a minute he maintained this rigid aspect, and then as
suddenly relaxed, murmuring in a tone of relentless determination, 'I
will.' It was not in me not to inquire into the nature of this
passionate intention, and somehow I induced him to explain.

It seemed that in spite of his genuine academic successes and a moderate
popularity at school and at Oxford, he had suffered from early boyhood
from a curious distrust of his own capacity in the face of anything he
had to do. In a measure, no doubt, this had even contributed to his
successes. For his nervousness took the form of an intimate, silent
brooding over any ordeal that lay before him, whether it was a visit to
his uncle, or 'Schools,' or a dance: he would lie awake for hours
imagining all conceivable forms of error and failure and humiliation
that might befall him in his endeavour. And though he was to this extent
forewarned and forearmed, it must have been a painful process. And it
explained to me the puzzling intervals of seeming melancholy which I had
seen varying his usually cheerful demeanour.

'You remember last night,' he said, 'I had been detailed to look after
the baggage when we disembarked, and take charge of the unloading-party?
As far as I know I did the job all right, except for losing old
Tompkins' valise--but you can't think how much worry and anxiety it gave
me _beforehand_. All the time on the sweeper I was imagining the
hundreds of possible disasters: the working-party not turning up, and me
left alone on the boat with the baggage--the Colonel's things being
dropped overboard--a row with the M.L.O.--getting the baggage ashore,
and then losing the battalion, or the working-party, or the baggage. It
all worked out quite simply, but I tell you, Benson, it gave me hell.
And it's always the same. That's really why I didn't take a
commission--because I couldn't imagine myself drilling men once without
becoming a permanent laughing-stock. I know now that I was a fool about
that--I usually do find that out--but I can't escape the feeling next
time.

'And now, it's not only little things like that, but that's what I feel
about the whole war. I've a terror of being a failure in it, a failure
out here--you know, a sort of regimental dud. I've heard of lots of
them; the kind of man that nobody gives an important job because he's
sure to muck it up (though I do believe Eccleston's more likely to be
that than me). But that's what I was thinking just now. Somehow, looking
at this view--Troy and all that--and thinking how those Greeks sweated
blood for ten years on afternoons like this, doing their duty for the
damned old kings, and how we've come out here to fight in the same place
thousands of years afterwards, and we still know about them and remember
their names--well, it gave me a kind of inspiration; I don't know why.
I've got a bit of confidence--God knows how long it will last--but I
swear I won't be a failure, I won't be the battalion dud--and I'll have
a damned good try to get a medal of some sort and be like--like Achilles
or somebody.'

Sheer breathlessness put a sudden end to this outburst, and since it was
followed by a certain shyness at his own revelations I did not probe
deeper. But I thought to myself that this young man's spirit of romance
would die hard; I did not know whether it would ever die; for certainly
I had never seen that spirit working so powerfully in any man as a
positive incentive to achievement. And I tell you all this, because I
want you to understand how it was with him in the beginning.

But now the bay was in shadow below us; on the hill the solemn stillness
that comes over all trenches in the hour before dusk had already
descended, and away towards the cape the Indians were coming out to
kneel in prayer beside the alien sea.

The Romance of War was in full song. And scrambling down the cliff, we
bathed almost reverently in the Hellespont.



II


Those first three days were for many of us, who did not know the mild
autumn months, the most pleasant we spent on the Peninsula. The last
weeks of May had something of the quality of an old English summer, and
the seven plagues of the Peninsula had not yet attained the intolerable
violence of June and July. True, the inhabited portion of the narrow
land we won had already become in great part a wilderness; the myrtle,
and rock-rose, and tangled cistus, and all that wealth of spring flowers
in which the landing parties had fallen and died in April, had long been
trodden to death, and there were wide stretches of yellow desert where
not even the parched scrub survived. But in the two and a half miles of
bare country which lay between the capes and the foot-hills of Achi Baba
was one considerable oasis of olives and stunted oaks, and therein, on
the slopes of the bridge, was our camp fortunately set. The word 'camp'
contains an unmerited compliment to the place. The manner of its birth
was characteristic of military arrangements in those days. When we were
told, on that first mysterious midnight, to dig ourselves a shelter
against the morning's 'searching,' we were far from imagining that what
we dug would be our Peninsular 'home' and haven of rest from the
firing-line for many months to come. And so we made what we conceived to
be the quickest and simplest form of shelter against a quite temporary
emergency--long, straight, untraversed ditches, running parallel to and
with but a few yards between each other. No worse form of permanent
dwelling-place could conceivably have been constructed, for the men were
cramped in these places with a minimum of comfort and a maximum of
danger. No man could climb out of his narrow drain without casting a
shower of dust from the crumbling parapet on to his sleeping neighbour
in the next ditch; and three large German shells could have destroyed
half the regiment. Yet there were many such camps, most of them lacking
the grateful concealment of our trees. Such targets even the Turkish
artillery must sometimes hit, There were no dug-outs in the accepted
sense of the Western Front, no deep, elaborate, stair-cased chambers,
hollowed out by miners with miners' material. _Our_ dug-outs _were_
dug-outs in truth, shallow excavations scooped in the surface of the
earth. The only roof for a man against sun and shells was a waterproof
sheet stretched precariously over his hole. It is sufficient testimony
to the indifference of the Turkish artillery that with such naked
concentrations of men scattered about the Peninsula, casualties in the
rest-camps were so few.

Each officer had his own private hole, set democratically among the
men's; and an officers' mess was simply made by digging a larger hole,
and roofing it with _two_ waterproof sheets instead of one. There was no
luxury among the infantry there, and the gulf which yawns between the
lives of officer and man in France as regards material comfort was
barely discernible in Gallipoli. Food was dull and monotonous: for weeks
we had only bully-beef and biscuits, and a little coarse bacon and tea,
but it was the same for all, one honourable equality of discomfort. At
first there were no canteen facilities, and when some newcomer came from
one of the islands with a bottle of champagne and another of chartreuse,
we drank it with 'bully' and cast-iron biscuit. Drinking water was as
precious as the elixir of life, and almost as unobtainable, but officer
and man had the same ration to eke out through the thirsty day. Wells
were sunk, and sometimes immediately condemned, and when we knew the
water was clear and sweet to taste, it was hard to have it corrupted
with the metallic flavour of chemicals by the medical staff. Then indeed
did a man learn to love water; then did he learn discipline, when he
filled his water-bottle in the morning with the exiguous ration of the
day, and fought with the intolerable craving to put it to his lips and
there and then gurgle down his fill.

In the spring nights it was very cold, and men shivered in their single
blanket under the unimaginable stars; but very early the sun came up,
and by five o'clock all the camp were singing; and there were three
hours of fresh coolness when it was very good to wash in a canvas
bucket, and smoke in the sun before the torrid time came on; and again
at seven, when the sun sat perched on the great rock of Samothrace, and
Imbros was set in a fleecy marvel of pink and saffron clouds, there were
two hours of pure physical content; but these, I think, were more nearly
perfect than the morning because they succeeded the irritable fevers of
the day. Then the crickets in the branches sang less tediously, and the
flies melted away, and all over the Peninsula the wood fires began to
twinkle in the dusk, as the men cooked over a few sticks the little
delicacies which were preserved for this hour of respite. When we had
done we sat under our olive-tree in the clear twilight, and watched the
last aeroplanes sail home to Rabbit Islands, and talked and argued till
the glow-worms glimmering in the scrub, and up the hill the long roll of
the Turks' rapid fire, told us that darkness was at hand, and the chill
dew sent us into our crannies to sleep.

So we were not sorry for three days of quiet in the camp before we went
up the hill; Harry alone was all eagerness to reach the firing-line with
the least possible delay. But then Harry was like none of us; indeed,
none of us were like each other. It would have been strange if we had
been. War-chroniclers have noted with an accent of astonishment the
strange diversity of persons to be found in units of the New Army, and
the essential sameness of their attitude to the war. As though a man
were to go into the Haymarket and be surprised if the first twelve
pedestrians there were not of the same profession; were then to summon
them to the assistance of a woman in the hands of a rough, and be still
surprised at the similarity of their methods.

We were, in truth, a motley crowd, gathered from everywhere; but when we
sat under that olive-tree we were very much alike--with the single
exception of Harry.

Egerton, our company commander, a man of about thirty, with a round face
and a large head, was a stockbroker by profession, and rather
improbably, an old Territorial by pastime. He was an excellent company
commander, but would have made a still more admirable second-in-command,
for his training in figures and his meticulous habits in such things as
the keeping of accounts were just what is required of a
second-in-command, and were lamentably deficient in myself. The
intricacies of Acquittance Rolls and Imprest Accounts, and page 3 of the
Soldier's Pay-Book, were meat and drink to him, and in general I must
confess that I shamefully surrendered such delicacies to him.

Harry Penrose had the 14th Platoon. Of the other three subalterns
perhaps the most interesting was Hewett. He, like Harry, had been at
Oxford before the war, though they had never come together there. He was
a fair, dreamy person, of remarkably good looks. Alone of all the 'young
Apollos' I have known did he at all deserve that title. Most of these
have been men of surpassing stupidity and material tastes, but Hewett
added to his physical qualifications something of the mental refinement
which presumably one should expect of even a modern Apollo. Intensely
fastidious, he frankly detested the war, and all the dirt and disgust he
must personally encounter. Like Harry, he was an idealist--but more so;
for he could not idealize the war. But the shrinking of his spirit had
no effect on his conduct: he was no less courageous than Harry or any
one else, and no less keen to see the thing through. Only, at that time,
he was a little less blind. A year senior to Harry, he had taken Greats
in 1914, and though his degree had been disappointingly low he had not
yet lost the passionate attachment of the 'Greats' man to philosophy and
thoughts of the Ultimate Truths. Sometimes he would try to induce one of
us to talk with him of his religious and philosophical doubts; but in
that feverish place it was too difficult for us, and usually he brooded
over his problems alone.

Eustace, of the 16th Platoon, was a journalist by repute, though it was
never discovered to what journal, if any, he was specially attached. His
character was more attractive than his appearance, which was long,
awkward, and angular; and if he had ever been to school, he would have
been quite undeservedly unpopular for not playing games:
undeservedly--because one could not conceive of him as playing any game.
Physically, indeed, he was one of Nature's gawks; intellectually he was
nimble, not to say athletic, with an acute and deeply logical mind. As a
companion, more especially a companion in war, he was made tedious by a
habit of cynicism and a passion for argument. The cynicism, I think, had
developed originally from some early grievance against Society, had been
adopted as an effective pose, and had now become part of his nature.
Whatever its origin it was wearing to us, for in the actual scenes of
war one likes to cling to one's illusions while any shred of them
remains, and would rather they faded honourably under the gentle
influence of time than be torn to fragments in a moment by reasoned
mockery. But Eustace was never tired of exhibiting the frailty and
subterfuge of all men, particularly in their relations to the war; the
_Nation_ arrived for him as regularly as the German submarines would
allow, and all his views were in that sense distinctly 'National.' If
any of us were rash enough to read that paper ourselves, we were
inevitably provoked to some comment which led to a hot wrangle on the
Public Schools, or Kitchener, or the rights of the war, and the pleasant
calm of the dusk was marred. For Eustace could always meet us with a
powerfully logical case, and while in spirit we revolted against his
heresies, we were distressed by the appeal they made to our reluctant
reasons. Harry, the most ingenuous of us all and the most devoted to his
illusions, was particularly worried by this conflict. It seemed very
wrong to him that a man so loyal and gallant in his personal relations
with others should trample so ruthlessly on their dearest opinions.

Burnett was of a very different type. Tall and muscular, with reddish
hair and vivid blue eyes, he looked (as he wanted to look) a 'man of
action' by nature and practice. He had 'knocked about' for some years in
Africa and Australia (a process which had failed equally to establish
his fortunes or soften his rough edges), and from the first he affected
the patronizing attitude of the experienced campaigner. The little
discomforts of camp life were nothing to him, for were they not part of
his normal life? And when I emerged from my dug-out pursued by a
centipede of incredible ferocity, he held forth for a long time on the
best method of dispatching rattlesnakes in the Umgoga, or some such
locality. By degrees, however, as life became more unbearable, the
conviction dawned upon us that he was no less sensible to heat and
hunger and thirst than mere 'temporary' campaigners, and rather more
ready to utter his complaints. Finally, the weight of evidence became
overwhelming, and it was whispered at the end of our first week at
Gallipoli that 'Burnett was bogus.' The quality of being 'bogus' was in
those days the last word in military condemnation; and in Burnett's case
events showed the verdict to be lamentably correct.

So we were a strangely assorted crowd, only alike, as I have said, in
that we were keen on the winning of this war and resolved to do our
personal best towards that end. Of the five of us, Hewett and Eustace
had the most influence on Harry. Me he regarded as a solid kind of wall
that would never let him down, or be guilty of any startling deviations
from the normal. By Hewett he was personally and spiritually attracted;
by Eustace alternately fascinated and disturbed. And it was a very bad
day for Harry when Hewett's death removed that gentle, comfortable
influence.


II

We were ordered to relieve the ----'s at midnight on the fourth day, and
once again we braced ourselves for the last desperate battle of our
lives. All soldiers go through this process during their first weeks of
active service every time they 'move' anywhere. Immense expectations,
vows, fears, prayers, fill their minds; and nothing particular happens.
Only the really experienced soldier knows that it is the exception and
not the rule for anything particular to happen; and the heroes of
romance and history who do not move a muscle when told that they are to
attack at dawn are generally quite undeserving of praise, since long
experience has taught them that the attack is many times more likely to
be cancelled than to occur. Until it actually does happen they will not
believe in it; they make all proper preparations, but quite rightly do
not move a muscle. We, however, were now to have our first illustration
of this great military truth. For, indeed, we were to have no battle.
Yet that night's march to the trenches was an experience that made full
compensation. It was already dusk when we moved out of the rest-camp,
and the moon was not up. As usual in new units, the leading platoons
went off at a reckless canter, and stumbling after them in the gathering
shadows over rocky, precipitous slopes, and in and out of the clumps of
bush, falling in dark holes on to indignant sleepers, or maddeningly
entangled in hidden strands of wire, the rear companies were speedily
out of touch. To a heavily laden infantryman there are few things more
exasperating than a night march into the line conducted too fast. If the
country be broken and strewn with obstacles, at which each man must wait
while another climbs or drops or wrestles or wades in front of him, and
must then laboriously scamper after him in the shadows lest he, and
thereby all those behind him, be lost; if the country be unknown to him,
so that, apart from purely military considerations, the fear of being
lost is no small thing, for a man knows that he may wander all night
alone in the dark, surrounded by unknown dangers, cut off from sleep,
and rations, and the friendly voices of companions, a jest among them
when he discovers them: then such a march becomes a nightmare.

On this night it dawned gradually on those in front that they were
unaccompanied save by the 1st platoon, and a long halt, and much
shouting and searching, gathered most of the regiment together, hot,
cursing, and already exhausted. And now we passed the five white Water
Towers, standing mysteriously in a swamp, and came out of the open
country into the beginning of a gully. These 'gullies' were deep,
steep-sided ravines, driven through all the lower slopes of Achi Baba,
and carrying in the spring a thin stream of water, peopled by many
frogs, down to the Straits or the sea. It was easier going here, for
there was a rough track beside the stream to follow; yet, though those
in front were marching, as they thought, with inconceivable
deliberation, the rear men of each platoon were doubling round the
corners among the trees, and cursing as they ran. There was then a wild
hail of bullets in all those gullies, since for many hours of each night
the Turk kept up a sustained and terrible rapid fire from his trenches
far up the hill, and, whether by design or bad shooting, the majority of
these bullets passed high over our trenches, and fell hissing in the
gully-bed.

So now all the air seemed full of the humming, whistling things, and all
round in the gully-banks and the bushes by the stream there were vicious
spurts as they fell. It was always a marvel how few casualties were
caused by this stray fire, and to-night we were chiefly impressed with
this wonder. In the stream the frogs croaked incessantly with a note of
weary indifference to the medley of competing noises. At one point there
was a kind of pot-hole in the stream where the water squeezing through
made a kind of high-toned wail, delivered with stabbing emphasis at
regular intervals. So weird was this sound, which could be heard many
hundred yards away, and gradually asserted itself above all other
contributions to that terrible din, that many of the men, already
mystified and excited, said to themselves that this was the noise of the
hideous explosive bullets of which they had heard.

Soon we were compelled to climb out of the gully-path to make way for
some descending troops, and stumbled forward with a curious feeling of
nakedness high up in open ground. Here the bullets were many times
multiplied, and many of us said that we could feel them passing between
us. Indeed, one or two men were hit, but though we did not know it, most
of these near-sounding bullets flew high above us. After a little we
were halted, and lay down, wondering, in the sibilant dark; then we
moved on and halted again, and realized suddenly that we were very
tired. At the head of the column the guide had lost his way, and could
not find the entrance to the communication trench; and here in the most
exposed area of all that Peninsula we must wait until he did. The march
was an avoidable piece of mismanagement; the whole regiment was being
unnecessarily endangered. But none of this we knew; so very few men were
afraid. For we were still in the bliss of ignorance. It seemed to us
that these strange proceedings must be a part of the everyday life of
the soldier. If they were not, we raw creatures should not have been
asked to endure them. We had no standard of safety or danger by which to
estimate our position; and so the miraculous immunity we were enjoying
was taken as a matter of course, and we were blissfully unafraid. At the
same time we were extremely bored and tired, and the sweat cooled on us
in the chill night air. And when at last we came into the deep
communication trench we felt that the end of this weariness must surely
be near. But the worst exasperations of relieving an unknown line were
still before us. It was a two-mile trudge in the narrow ditches to the
front line. No war correspondent has ever described such a march; it is
not included in the official 'horrors of war'; but this is the kind of
thing which, more than battle and blood, harasses the spirit of the
infantryman, and composes his life. The communication trenches that
night were good and deep and dry, and free from the awfulness of mud;
but they were very few, and unintelligently used. There had been an
attack that day, and coming by the same trench was a long stream of
stretchers and wounded men, and odd parties coming to fetch water from
the well, and whole battalions relieved from other parts of the line.
Our men had been sent up insanely with full packs; for a man so equipped
to pass another naked in the narrow ditch would have been difficult;
when all those that he meets have also straps and hooks and excrescences
about them, each separate encounter means heartbreaking entanglements
and squeezes and sudden paroxysms of rage. That night we stood a total
of hours hopelessly jammed in the suffocating trench, with other troops
trying to get down. A man stood in those crushes, unable to sit down,
unable to lean comfortably against the wall because of his pack, unable
even to get his hand to his water-bottle and quench his intolerable
thirst, unable almost to breathe for the hot smell of herded humanity.
Only a thin ribbon of stars overhead, remotely roofing his prison,
reminded him that indeed he was still in the living world and not
pursuing some hideous nightmare. At long last some one would take charge
of the situation, and by sheer muscular fighting for space the two
masses would be extricated. Then one moved on again. And now each man
has become a mere lifeless automaton. Every few yards there is a wire
hanging across the trench at the height of a man's eyes, and he runs
blindly into it, or it catches in the piling-swivel of his rifle;
painfully he removes it, or in a fit of fury tears the wire away with
him. Or there is a man lying in a corner with a wounded leg crying out
to each passer-by not to tread on him, or a stretcher party slowly
struggling against the tide. Mechanically each man grapples with these
obstacles, mechanically repeats the ceaseless messages that are passed
up and down, and the warning 'Wire,' 'Stretcher party', 'Step up,' to
those behind, and stumbles on. He is only conscious of the dead weight
of his load, and the braces of his pack biting into his shoulders, of
his thirst, and the sweat of his body, and the longing to lie down and
sleep. When we halt men fall into a doze as they stand, and curse
pitifully when they are urged on from behind.

We reach the inhabited part of the line, and the obstacles become more
frequent, for there are traverses every ten yards and men sleeping on
the floor, and a litter of rifles, water-cans, and scattered equipment.
For ever we wind round the endless traverses, and squeeze past the
endless host we are relieving; and sometimes the parapet is low or
broken or thin, or there is a dangerous gap, and we are told to keep our
heads down, and dully pass back the message so that it reaches men
meaninglessly when they have passed the danger-point, or are still far
from it. All the time there is a wild rattle of rapid fire from the
Turks, and bullets hammer irritably on the parapet, or fly singing
overhead. When a man reached his destined part of the trench that night
there were still long minutes of exasperation before him; for we were
inexperienced troops, and first of all the men crowded in too far
together, and must turn about, and press back so as to cover the whole
ground to be garrisoned; then they would flock like sad sheep too far in
the opposite direction. This was the subaltern's bad time; for the
officer must squeeze backwards and forwards, struggling to dispose
properly his own sullen platoon, and it was hard for him to be patient
with their stupidity, for, like them, he only longed to fling off his
cursed equipment and lie down and sleep for ever. He, like them, had but
one thought, that if there were to be no release from the hateful burden
that clung to his back, and cut into his shoulders and ceaselessly
impeded him, if there were to be no relief for his thirst and the urgent
aching of all his body--he must soon sink down and scream....


III

Harry's platoon was settled in when I found him, hidden away somewhere
in the third (Reserve) line. He had conscientiously posted a few
sentries, and done all those things which a good platoon commander
should do, and was lying himself in a sort of stupor of fatigue.
Physically he was not strong, rather frail, in fact, for the infantry;
he had a narrow chest and slightly round shoulders, and his heart would
not have passed any civilian doctor; and--from my own experience--I knew
that the march must have tried him terribly. But a little rest had
soothed the intense nervous irritation whose origins I have tried to
describe, and his spirit was as sturdy as ever. He struggled to his feet
and leaned over the parados with me. The moon was now high up in the
north-east; the Turks had ceased their rapid fire at moonrise, and now
an immense peace wrapped the Peninsula. We were high up on the centre
slopes of Achi Baba, and all the six miles which other men had conquered
lay bathed in moonlight below us. Far away at the cape we could see the
long, green lights of the hospital ships, and all about us were
glow-worms in the scrub. Left and right the pale parapets of trenches
crept like dim-seen snakes into the little valleys, and vanished over
the opposite slopes. Only a cruiser off shore firing lazily at long
intervals disturbed the slumberous stillness. No better sedative could
have been desired.

'How did you like the march?' I said.

'Oh, all right; one of my men was wounded, I believe, but I didn't see
him.'

'All right?' I said. 'Personally I thought it was damned awful; it's a
marvel that any of us are here at all. I hear A Company's still adrift,
as it is.'

'Well, anyhow _we_ got here,' said Harry. 'What a wonderful spot this
is. And look at those damned glow-worms.'

I was anxious to know what impression the night had made on Harry, but
these and other answers gave me no real clue. I had a suspicion that it
had, in truth, considerably distressed him, but any such effect had
clearly given way to the romantic appeal of the quiet moon. I, too, was
enjoying the sense of peace, but I was still acutely conscious of the
unpleasantness of the night's proceedings; and a certain envy took hold
of me at this youth's capacity to concentrate on the attractive shadow
of distasteful things. There was a heavy, musty smell over all this part
of the trench, the smell of a dead Turk lying just over the parapet, and
it occurred to me, maliciously, to wake Harry from his dreams, and bring
home to him the reality of things.

'Funny smell you've got here, Harry,' I said; 'know what it is?'

'Yes, it's cactus or amaryllis, or one of those funny plants they have
here, isn't it? I read about it in the papers.'

This was too much. 'It's a dead Turk,' I told him, with a wicked
anticipation of the effect I should produce.

The effect, however, was not what I expected.

'No!' said Harry, with obvious elation. 'Let's find the devil.'

Forthwith he swarmed over the parapet, full of life again, nosed about
till he found the reeking thing, and gazed on it with undisguised
interest. No sign of horror or disgust could I detect in him. Yet it was
not pure ghoulishness; it was simply the boy's greed for experience and
the savour of adventure. Anyhow, my experiment had failed; and I found
that I was glad. But when I was leaving him for the next platoon, he was
lying down for a little sleep on the dirty floor of the trench, and as
he flashed his electric torch over the ground, I saw several small white
objects writhing in the dust. The company commander whom we had relieved
had told me how under all these trenches the Turks and the French had
buried many of their dead, and in a moment of nauseating insight I knew
that these things were the maggots which fed upon their bodies.

'Harry,' I said, 'you can't sleep there; look at those things!' And I
told him what they were.

'Rubbish,' he said, 'they're glow-worms gone to sleep.'

Well, then I left him. But that's how he was in those days.



III


So many men have written descriptions of trench life in France; there
have been so many poems, plays, and speeches about it that the majority
of our nation must have a much clearer mental picture of life on the
Western Front than they have of life at the Savoy, or life in East Ham.
But the Gallipoli Peninsula was never part of the Western Front, and no
man came back from that place on leave; lucky, indeed, if he came at
all. The campaign was never, for obvious reasons, an important item in
official propaganda, and the various non-official agencies which now
bring home the war to Streatham had not begun to articulate when the
campaign came to an end. And so neither Streatham nor any one else knew
anything about it. And though for a soldier to speak, however distantly,
of the details of trench life in France, is now in some circles
considered a solecism equivalent to the talking of 'shop,' I hope I may
still without offence make some brief reference to the trenches of the
Peninsula. For, in truth, it was all very different. Above all, from
dawn to dawn it was genuine infantry warfare. In France, apart from
full-dress attacks, an infantryman may live for many months without once
firing his rifle, or running the remotest risk of death by a rifle
bullet. Patiently he tramps, and watches, and digs, and is shelled,
clinging fondly to his rifle night and day, but seldom or never in a
position to use it; so that in the stagnant days of the past he came to
look upon it as a mere part of his equipment, like his water-bottle,
only heavier and less comforting; and in real emergencies fumbled
stupidly with the unfamiliar mechanism. This was true for a long time of
the normal, or 'peace-time,' sectors of France.

But in those hill-trenches of Gallipoli the Turk and the Gentile fought
with each other all day with rifle and bomb, and in the evening crept
out and stabbed each other in the dark. There was no release from the
strain of watching and listening and taking thought. The Turk was always
on higher ground; he knew every inch of all those valleys and vineyards
and scrub-strewn slopes; and he had an uncanny accuracy of aim.
Moreover, many of his men had the devotion of fanatics, which inspired
them to lie out behind our lines, with stores of food enough to last out
their ammunition, certain only of their own ultimate destruction, but
content to lie there and pick off the infidels till they too died. They
were very brave men. But the Turkish snipers were not confined to the
madmen who were caught disguised as trees in the broad daylight and
found their way into the picture papers. Every trench was full of
snipers, less theatrical, but no less effective. And in the night they
crept out with unbelievable stealth and lay close in to our lines,
killing our sentries, and chipping away our crumbling parapets.

So the sniping was terrible. In that first week we lost twelve men each
day; they fell without a sound in the early morning as they stood up
from their cooking at the brazier, fell shot through the head, and lay
snoring horribly in the dust; they were sniped as they came up the
communication trench with water, or carelessly raised their heads to
look back at the ships in the bay; and in the night there were sudden
screams where a sentry had moved his head too often against the moon. If
a periscope were raised, however furtively, it was shivered in an
instant; if a man peered over himself, he was dead. Far back in the
Reserve Lines or at the wells, where a man thought himself hidden from
view, the sniper saw and killed him. All along the line were
danger-posts where many had been hit; these places became invested with
a peculiar awe, and as you came to them the men said, 'Keep low here,
sir,' in a mysterious whisper, as though the Turk could hear them.
Indeed, so uncanny were many of the deaths, that some men said the Turk
could see impossibly through the walls of the trench, and crouched
nervously in the bottom. All the long communication trenches were
watched, and wherever a head or a moving rifle showed at a gap a bullet
came with automatic regularity. Going down a communication-trench alone
a man would hear the tap of these bullets on the parapet following him
along, and break into a half-hysterical run in the bright sunlight to
get away from this unnatural pursuit; for such it seemed to him to be.

The fire seemed to come from all angles; and units bitterly accused
their neighbours of killing their men when it seemed impossible that any
Turk could have fired the shot.

For a little, then, this sniping was thoroughly on the men's nerves.
Nothing in their training had prepared them for it. They hated the
'blinded' feeling it produced; it was demoralizing always to be
wondering if one's head was low enough, always to walk with a stoop; it
was tiring to be always taking care; and it was very dangerous to relax
that care for a moment. Something had to be done; and the heavy,
methodical way in which these Tynesiders of ours learned to counter and
finally overcome the sniper, is characteristic of the nation's effort
throughout this war. The Turks were natural soldiers, fighting in their
own country; more, they were natural scouts. Our men were ponderous,
uncouth pitmen from Tyneside and the Clyde. But we chose out a small
body of them who could shoot better than their fellows, and called them
snipers, and behold, they _were_ snipers. We gave them telescopes, and
periscopes, and observers, and set them in odd corners, and told them to
snipe. And by slow degrees they became interested and active and expert,
and killed many Turks. The third time we came to those trenches we could
move about with comparative freedom.

In all this Harry took a leading part, for the battalion scout officer
was one of the first casualties, and Harry, who had had some training as
a scout in the ranks, was appointed in his place. In this capacity he
was in charge of the improvised snipers, and all day moved about the
line from post to post, encouraging and correcting. All this he did with
characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and tired himself out with long
wanderings in the scorching sun. In those trenches all movement was an
intense labour. The sun blazed always into the suffocating ditch, where
no breath of air came; the men not on duty lay huddled wherever they
could steal an inch of shade, with the flies crawling about their eyes
and open mouths. Progress was a weary routine of squeezing past men, or
stepping over men, or running into men round corners, as one stooped to
escape death. In little niches in the wall were mess-tins boiling over
box-wood fires, so that the eyes smarted from their smoke, and the air
was full of the hot fumes; and everywhere was the stuffy smell of human
flesh. In the heat of the day these things produced in the healthiest
man an intolerable irritation and fatigue: to a frail, sensitive youth
like Harry his day-long rambles must have been torture; but though he
too became touchy he pursued his task with determination, and would not
be tempted away. The rest of us, when not on watch, lay torpid all the
hot hours in the shallow holes we had scratched behind the trench, and
called Company Headquarters. These places were roofed only with the
inevitable waterproof sheet, and, had there been any serious shelling,
would have been death-traps. Into these dwellings came many strange
animals, driven from their nests among the roots of the scrub--snakes,
lizards, and hideous centipedes. Large, clumsy, winged things, which
some said were locusts, fell into the trench, and for a few hours strove
vainly to leap out again till they were trampled to death; they had the
colour of ivory, and shone with bright tints in the sun like shot silk.
The men found tortoises derelict in near shell-holes, and set them to
walk in the trench, and they too wandered sadly about till they
disappeared, no man knew where. The flies were not yet at full strength,
but they were very bad; and all day we wrestled with thirst. He was a
lucky man who could sleep in the daylight hours, and when the cool
evening came, beckoning him to sleep, he must rise and bestir himself
for the work of the night.

Then all the line stirred with life again, with the cleaning of rifles
thick with heavy dust, and the bustle of men making ready to 'Stand to
Arms.' Now, indeed, could a man have slept when all the pests of the day
had been exorcized by the cool dusk, and the bitter cold of the midnight
was not yet come. But there was no sleep for any man, only watching and
digging and carrying and working and listening. And so soon as Achi Baba
was swathed in shadow, and the sun well down behind the westward
islands, the Turk began his evening fusillade of rapid fire. This was an
astonishing performance. Night after night at this hour every man in his
trench must have blazed away till his rifle would do its work no more.
'Rapid fire' has been a speciality of the Turkish infantryman since the
days of Plevna, and indeed he excels in it. Few English units could
equal his performance for ten minutes; but the Turk kept up the same
sustained deafening volume of fire for hours at a stretch, till the moon
came up and allayed his fears. For it was an exhibition of nervousness
as well as musketry: fearful of a stealthy assault in the dark, he would
not desist till he could see well across his own wire. Captured orders
by the Turkish High Command repeatedly forbade this reckless expenditure
of ammunition, and sometimes for two nights he would restrain himself,
but in the early days never for more. Our policy was to lie down in the
trench, and think sardonically of the ammunition he was wasting; but
even this was not good for men's minds. Most of the fire was high and
whizzed over into the gullies, but many hundreds of all those thousands
of bullets hit the parapet. There was a steady, reiterant rap of them on
the sand-bags, very irritating to the nerves, and bits of the parapet
splashed viciously into the trench over the crouching men. In that
tornado of sound a man must shout to make himself heard by his friends,
and this produced in his mind an uncomfortable sense of isolation; he
seemed cut off from humanity, and brooded secretly to himself. Safe he
might be in that trench, but he could not long sit alone in that
tempestuous security without imagining himself in other
circumstances--climbing up the parapet--leaving the trench--walking into
THAT. So on the few murky nights when the moon would not show herself
but peeped temptingly from behind large bolsters of cloud, so that even
the Turks diminished their fire, and then with a petulant crescendo
continued, men lay in the dust and prayed for the moon to come. So
demoralizing was this fire that it was not easy to induce even sentries
to keep an effective watch. Not unnaturally, they did not like lifting
their heads to look over, even for the periodical peeps which were
insisted upon. An officer on his rounds would find them standing on the
firestep with their heads well below the parapet, but gazing intently
into the heart of a sand-bag, with the air of a man whom no movement of
the enemy can escape. The officer must then perform the melancholy rite
of 'showing the man how safe it is.' This consisted in climbing up to
the firestep, and exposing an immoderate amount of his head; gazing
deliberately at the Turks, and striving to create an impression of
indifference and calm. He then jumped down, shouting cheerily, 'That's
the way, Thompson,' and walked off, thanking God. Personally I did not
like this duty. At the best it was an hypocrisy. For the reluctance of
the officer to look over was no less acute than the man's; and it was
one thing to look for a moment or two and pass on, and another to stand
there and repeat the process at brief intervals. Officers performed this
rite according to their several characters: Eustace, for example, with a
cynical grin which derided, with equal injustice, both himself and his
action; he was notably courageous, and his nonchalance on the parapet
would have been definitely reassuring to the nervous sentry. But his
expression and attitude said clearly: 'This is all damned nonsense, my
good man; _you_ don't like standing up here, neither do I, and neither
of us is deceiving the other at all.' Burnett did it with genuine and
ill-concealed distaste, too hasty to be convincing. Harry, alone, did it
with a gallant abandon, like a knight throwing down his challenge to the
enemy; and he alone can have been really inspiring to the reluctant
sentry. He had a keen dramatic instinct, and in these little scenes
rather enjoyed the part of the unperturbed hero calming the timorous
herd. Watching him once or twice I wondered how much was acting and how
much real fearlessness; if it was acting he was braver then than most of
us--but I think it was the other just then.

There were five or six hours between the end of the rapid fire and the
'Stand to' before dawn. During these hours three of the company officers
were always on duty. We split the time in two, and it was a weary three
hours patrolling the still trench, stumbling over sleeping men, sprawled
out like dead in the moonlight, and goading the tired sentries to
watchfulness. Terrible was the want of sleep. The men fell asleep with
their heads against the iron loopholes, and, starting up as the officer
shook them, swore that they had never nodded. Only by constant movement
could the officer be sure even of himself; he dared not sit for a moment
or lean in the corner of the traverse, though all his limbs ached for
rest, lest he, too, be found snoring at his post, and he and all his men
be butchered in their guilty sleep. And so he drags his sore feet
ceaselessly backwards and forwards, marvelling at the stillness and the
stars and the strange, musky night smell which has crept out of the
earth. Far away he can see the green lights of a hospital ship, and as
he looks they begin to move and dwindle slowly into the distance, for
she is going home; and he thinks of the warmth and light and comfort in
that ship, and follows her wistfully with his eyes till she is gone.
Turning back he sees a sentry, silent above him; he, too, is watching
the ship, and each man knows the other's thoughts, but they do not
speak.

At last comes the officer relieving him; cold and irritable from his
brief sleep. He is a little late, and they compare watches resentfully;
and unless they be firm friends, at that moment they hate each other.
But the one who is relieved goes down to the dug-out in the Support
Line, a little jauntily now, though his feet are painful, feeling
already that he could watch many hours more. And suddenly the moon is
beautiful, and the stars are friendly--for he is going to sleep. But
when he comes to the little narrow hole, which is the dug-out, there are
two officers already filling most of the floor, noisily asleep. One of
them is lying on his waterproof sheet: he tugs angrily at it, but it is
caught in something and will not come away. He shakes the man, but he
does not wake. Too tired to continue he lies down awkwardly in the
crooked space which is left between the legs and arms and equipment of
the others. He draws his meagre trench-coat over his body, and pulls his
knees up that they, too, may be covered; there is nothing over his feet,
and already they are cold. His head he rests on a rough army haversack.
In the middle of it there is a hard knob, a soap-tin, or a book, or a
tin of beef. For a little he lies uncomfortably like this, hoping for
sleep; his ear is crushed on the hard pillow; there is something knobbly
under his hip. He knows that he ought to get up and re-arrange
himself--but he lacks the necessary energy. Finally he raises himself on
his elbow and tugs at the towel in his haversack to make him a pillow;
the strap of the haversack is fastened, and the towel will not emerge.
He unfastens the haversack, and in desperation pulls out the whole of
its contents with the towel. His toothbrush and his sponge and his diary
are scattered in the dust. Some of the pages of the diary are loose, and
if he leaves it they will be lost; he feels in the darkness for his
electric torch, and curses because he cannot find it. He has lent it to
the damned fool who relieved him. Why can't people have things of their
own?

Painfully groping he gathers his belongings and puts them, one by one,
in the haversack, arranging his towel on the top. His elbow is sore with
leaning on it, but the pillow is ready. Lying down again he falls
quickly to sleep. Almost at once there is a wild din in his dreams.
Rapid fire again. Springing up, he rushes into the trench with the
others. It is an attack. Who is attacking? The men in the trench know
nothing. It started on the right, they say, and now the whole line is
ablaze again with this maddening rifle-fire. Running back to the dug-out
he gropes in the wreckage of coats and equipment for his belt and
revolver. He must hurry to the front line to take charge of his platoon.
There are no telephones to the firing-line. What the hell is happening?
When he is halfway up the communication trench, cannoning into the walls
in his haste and weariness, the firing suddenly stops. It was a wild
panic started by the Senegalese holding the line on our right. Damn
them--black idiots!

He goes back swearing with the other officers, and they lie down anyhow;
it is too late now to waste time on fussy arrangements. When he wakes up
again there is already a hint of light in the East. It is the 'Stand to
Arms' before dawn. His feet are numb and painful with cold, his limbs
are cramped and aching, and his right forearm has gone to sleep. The
flesh of his legs is clammy, and sticks to the breeches he has lived and
slept in for five days: he longs for a bath. Slowly with the others he
raises himself and gropes weakly in the muddle of garments on the floor
for his equipment. He cannot find his revolver. Burnett has lost his
belt, and mutters angrily to himself. All their belongings are entangled
together in the narrow space; they disengage them without speaking to
each other. Each one is in a dull coma of endurance; for the moment
their spirit is at its lowest ebb; it is the most awful moment of
warfare. In a little they will revive, but just now they cannot pretend
to bravery or cheerfulness, only curse feebly and fumble in the
darkness.

They go out into the trench and join their platoons. The N.C.O.'s are
still shaking and bullying the men still asleep; some of these are
almost senseless, and can only be roused by prolonged physical violence.
The officer braces himself for his duties, and by and by all the men are
more or less awake and equipped, though their heads droop as they sit,
and their neighbours nudge them into wakefulness as the officer
approaches. Mechanically he fills and lights a pipe, and takes a
cautious sip at his water-bottle; the pipe turns his empty stomach, and
an intolerable emptiness assails him. He knocks out the pipe and peers
over the parapet. It is almost light now, but a thin mist hides the
Turkish trench. His face is greasy and taut with dirt, and the corners
of his eyes are full of dust; his throat is dry, and there is a
loathsome stubble on his chin, which he fingers absently, pulling at the
long hairs.

Steadily the light grows and grows, and the men begin to chatter, and
suddenly the sun emerges over the corner of Achi Baba, and life and
warmth come back to the numb souls of all these men. 'Stand to' is over;
but as the men tear off their hateful equipment and lean their rifles
against the wall of the trench there is a sudden burst of shelling on
the right. Figures appear running on the skyline. They are against the
light, and the shapes are dark, but there seems to be a dirty blue in
their uniforms. No one quite knows how the line runs up there; it is a
salient. The figures must be Turks attacking the French. The men gape
over the parapet. The officer gapes. It is nothing to do with them. Then
he remembers what he is for, and tells his men excitedly to fire on the
figures. Some of the men have begun cooking their breakfast, and are
with difficulty seduced from their task. A spasmodic fire opens on the
running figures. It is hard to say where they are running, or what they
are doing. The officer is puzzled. It is his first glimpse of battle,
and he feels that a battle should be simple and easy to understand. The
officer of the next platoon comes along. He is equally ignorant of
affairs, but he thinks the figures are French, attacking the Turks.
They, too, wear blue. The first officer rushes down the line telling the
men to 'cease fire.' The men growl and go back to their cooking. It is
fairly certain that none of them hit any of the distant figures, but the
officer is worried. Why was nobody told what was to happen? What is it
all about? He has been put in a false position. Presently a belated chit
arrives to say that the French were to attack at sunrise, but the attack
was a fiasco, and is postponed.

And now all the air is sickly with the smell of cooking, and the dry
wood crackles in every corner; little wisps of smoke go straight up in
the still air. All the Peninsula is beautiful in the sunlight, and
wonderful to look upon against the dark blue of the sea; the dew
sparkles on the scrub; over the cypress grove comes the first aeroplane,
humming contentedly. Another day has begun; the officer goes down
whistling to wash in a bucket.



IV


Such was life in the line at that time. But I should make the soldier's
almost automatic reservation, that it might have been worse. There might
have been heavy shelling; but the shelling on the trenches was
negligible--then; there might have been mud, but there was not. And
eight such days might have left Harry Penrose quite unaffected in
spirit, in spite of his physical handicaps, by reason of his
extraordinary vitality and zest. But there were two incidents before we
went down which did affect him, and it is necessary that they should be
told.

On the fifth day in the line he did a very brave thing--brave, at least,
in the popular sense, which means that many another man would not have
done that thing. To my mind, a man is brave only in proportion to his
knowledge and his susceptibility to fear; the standard of the mob, the
standard of the official military mind, is absolute; there are no fine
shades--no account of circumstance and temperament is allowed--and
perhaps this is inevitable. Most men would say that Harry's deed was a
brave one. I have said so myself--but I am not sure.

Eighty to a hundred yards from one section of our line was a small
stretch of Turkish trench, considerably in advance of their main line.
From this trench a particularly harassing fire was kept up, night and
day, and the Brigade Staff considered that it should be captured. High
officers in shirt sleeves and red hats looked long and wisely at it
through periscopes; colonels and adjutants and subalterns and sergeants
stood silent and respectful while the great men pondered. The great men
then turned round with the air of those who make profound decisions, and
announced that 'You ought to be able to "enfilade" it from "over
there,"' or 'I suppose they "enfilade" you from there.' The term
'enfilade' invariably occurred somewhere in these dicta, and in the
listeners' minds there stirred the suspicion that the Great Ones had not
been looking at the right trench; if indeed they had focused the
unfamiliar instrument so as to see anything at all. But the decision was
made; and for the purposes of a night attack it was important to know
whether the trench was held strongly at night, or occupied only by a few
busy snipers. Harry was ordered to reconnoitre the trench with two
scouts.

The night was pitch black, with an unusual absence of stars. The worst
of the rapid fire was over, but there was a steady spit and crackle of
bullets from the Turks, and especially from the little trench opposite.
Long afterwards, in France, he told me that he would never again dream
of going out on patrol in the face of such a fire. But to-night it did
not occur to him to delay his expedition. The profession of scouting
made a special appeal to the romantic side of him; the prospect of some
real, practical scouting was exciting. According to the books much
scouting was done under heavy fire, but according to the books, and in
the absence of any experience to the contrary, it was probable that the
careful scout would not be killed. Then why waste time? (All this I
gathered indirectly from his account of the affair.) Two bullets smacked
into the parapet by his head as he climbed out of the dark sap and
wriggled forward into the scrub; but even these did not give him pause.
Only while he lay and waited for the two men to follow did he begin to
realize how many bullets were flying about. The fire was now really
heavy, and when I heard that Harry had gone out, I was afraid. But he as
yet was only faintly surprised. The Colonel had sent him out; the
Colonel had said the Turks fired high, and if you kept low you were
quite safe--and he ought to know. This was a regular thing in warfare,
and must be done. So on like reptiles into the darkness, dragging with
hands and pushing with knees. Progress in the orthodox scout fashion was
surprisingly slow and exhausting. The scrub tickled and scratched your
face, the revolver in your hands caught in the roots; the barrel must be
choked with dust. Moreover, it was impossible to see anything at all,
and the object of a reconnaissance being to see something, this was
perplexing. Even when the frequent flares went up and one lay pressed to
the earth, one's horizon was the edge of a tuft of scrub five yards
away. This always looked like the summit of some commanding height; but
labouring thither one saw by the next flare only another exactly similar
horizon beyond. So must the worm feel, wandering in the rugged spaces of
a well-kept lawn. It was long before Harry properly understood this
phenomenon; and by then his neck was stiff and aching from lying flat
and craning his head back to see in front. But after many hours of
crawling the ground sloped down a little, and now they could see the
sharp, stabbing flashes from the rifles of the snipers in the little
trench ahead of them. Clearly they were only snipers, for the flashes
came from only eight or nine particular spots, spaced out at intervals.
_Now_ the scouts glowed with the sense of achievement as they watched.
They had found out. Never again could Harry have lain like that, naked
in the face of those near rifles, coldly calculating and watching,
without an effort of real heroism. On this night he did it
easily--confident, unafraid. Elated with his little success, something
prompted him to go farther and confirm his deductions. He whispered to
his men to lie down in a fold of the ground, and crept forward to the
very trench itself, aiming at a point midway between two flashes. There
was no wire in front of the trench, but as he saw the parapet looming
like a mountain close ahead, he began to realize what a mad fool he was,
alone and helpless within a yard of the Turks, an easy mark in the light
of the next flare. But he would not go back, and squirming on worked his
head into a gap in the parapet, and gazed into a vast blackness. This he
did with a wild incautiousness, the patience of the true scout overcome
by his anxiety to do what he intended as soon as possible. The Turks'
own rifles had drowned the noise of his movements, and providentially no
flare went up till his body was against the parapet. When at length the
faint wavering light began and swelled into sudden brilliance, he could
see right into the trench, and when the shadows chased each other back
into its depths as the light fell, he lay marvelling at his own
audacity: so impressed was he by the wonder of his exploit that he was
incapable of making any intelligent observations, other than the bald
fact that there were no men in that part of the trench. He was still
waiting for another flare when there was a burst of rapid fire from our
own line a little to the right. Suddenly he realized that B Company _did
not know he was out_; C Company knew, but in his haste he had forgotten
to see that the others were informed before he left, as he had arranged
to do with the Colonel. He and his scouts would be shot by B Company.
Obsessed with this thought he turned and scrambled breathlessly back to
the two waiting men. God knows why he wasn't seen and sniped; and his
retirement must have been very noisy, for as he reached the others all
the snipers in the trench opened fire feverishly together. Harry and his
men, who were cold with waiting, wriggled blindly back; they no longer
pretended to any deliberation or cunning, but having come to no harm so
far were not seriously anxious about themselves; only it seemed good to
go back now. But after a few yards one of the men, Trower, gave a scream
of agony and cried out, 'I'm hit, I'm hit.'

In that moment, Harry told me, all the elation and pride of his exploit
ebbed out of him. A sick disgust with himself and everything came over
him. Williams, the other scout, lay between him and Trower, who was now
moaning horribly in the darkness. For a moment Harry was paralysed; he
lay there, saying feebly, 'Where are you hit? Where is he hit, Williams?
Where are you hit?' When at last he got to his side, the man was almost
unconscious with pain, but he had managed to screech out 'Both legs.' In
fact, he had been shot through the femoral artery, and one leg was
broken. In that blackness skilled hands would have had difficulty in
bandaging any wound; Harry and Williams could not even tell where his
wound was, for all his legs were wet and sticky with blood. But both of
them were fumbling and scratching at their field-dressings for some
moments before they realized this. Then they started to take the man in,
half dragging, half carrying him. At every movement the man shrieked in
agony. When they stood up to carry him bodily, he screamed so piercingly
that the storm of bullets was immediately doubled about them. When they
lay down and dragged him he screamed less, but progress was impossibly
slow. And now it seemed that there were Turks in the open scrub about
them, for there were flashes and loud reports at strangely close
quarters. The Turks could not see the miserable little party, but
Trower's screams were an easy guide. Then Harry bethought him of the
little medical case in his breast-pocket where, with needles and aspirin
and plaster and pills, was a small phial of morphine tablets. For
Trower's sake and their own, his screaming must be stilled. Tearing open
his pocket he fumbled at the elastic band round the case. The little
phial was smaller than the rest; he knew where it lay. But the case was
upside-down; all the phials seemed the same size. Trembling, he pulled
out the cork and shook out one of the tablets into his hand; a bullet
cracked like a whip over his head; the tablet fell in the scrub. He got
another out and passed it over to Williams. Williams's hand was shaking,
and he dropped it. Harry groaned. The next two were safely transferred
and pressed into Trower's mouth: he did not know how strong they were,
but he remembered vaguely seeing 'One or two' on the label, and at that
black moment the phrase came curiously into his head, 'As ordered by the
doctor.' Trower was quieter now, and this made the other two a little
calmer. Harry told me he was now so cool that he could put the phial
back carefully in the case and return them to his pocket; even, from
sheer force of habit, he buttoned up the pocket. But when they moved off
they realized with a new horror that they were lost. They had come out
originally from the head of a long sap; in the darkness and the
excitement they had lost all sense of direction, and had missed the sap.
Probably they were not more than fifty yards from friends, but they
might be moving parallel to the sap or parallel to the front line, and
that way they might go on indefinitely. They could not drag their
wretched burden with them indefinitely; so Harry sent Williams to find
the trench, and lay throbbing by the wounded man. No one who has not
been lost in the pitchy dark in No Man's Land can understand how easy it
is to arrive at that condition, and the intense feeling of helplessness
it produces. That solitary wait of Harry's must have been terrible; for
he had time now to ponder his position. Perhaps Williams would not find
the trench; perhaps he, too, would be hit; perhaps he would not be able
to find the scouts again. What should they do then? Anything was
possible in this awful darkness, with these bullets cracking and tearing
about him. Perhaps he would be killed himself. Straining his ears he
fancied he could hear the rustle of creeping men, any moment he expected
a rending blow on his own tender body. But his revolver had been dropped
in the dragging of Trower. He could do nothing--only try to bind up the
poor legs again. Poor Harry! as he lay there bandaging his scout, he
noticed that the lad had stopped moaning, and said to himself that his
morphine tablets had done their work. That was something, anyhow. But
the man was already dead. He could not have lived for ten minutes, the
doctor told me. And when Williams at last returned, trailing a long
string from the sap, it was a dead man they brought painfully into the
trench and handed over gently to the stretcher-bearers.

I was in the sap when they came, and dragged Harry away from it. And
when they told him he nearly cried.


II

The other incident is briefly told. On our last day in the line Harry's
platoon were working stealthily in the hot sun at a new section of
trench connecting two saps, and some one incautiously threw a little
new-turned earth over the parapet. The Turks, who seldom molested any of
the regular, established trenches with shell-fire, but hotly resented
the making of new ones, opened fire with a light high-velocity gun, of
the whizz-bang type. This was our first experience of the weapon, and
the first experience of a whizz-bang is very disturbing. The long shriek
of the ordinary shell encourages the usually futile hope that by ducking
one may avoid destruction. With the whizz-bang there is no hope, for
there is no warning; the sound and the shell arrive almost
simultaneously. Harry's platoon did not like these things. The first
three burst near but short of the trench, filling the air with fumes;
the fourth hit and removed most of the parapet of one bay. Harry,
hurrying along to the place, found the four men there considerably
surprised, crouching in the corners and gazing stupidly at the yawning
gap. It was undesirable, if not impossible, to rebuild the parapet
during daylight, so he moved them into the next bay. He then went along
the trench to see that all the men had ceased work. He heard two more
shells burst behind him as he went. On his way back two men rushing
round a corner--two men with white faces smeared with black and a little
blood--almost knocked him down; they were speechless. He went through
the bay which had been blown in; it was silent, empty; the bay beyond
was silent too, save for the buzzing of a thousand flies. In it he had
left eight men; six of them were lying dead. Two had marvellously
escaped. The first whizz-bang had blown away the parapet; the second,
following immediately after, had passed miraculously through the hole,
straight into the trench--a piece of astounding bad luck or good
gunnery. The men could not be buried till dusk, and we left them there.

Two hours later, as we sat under a waterproof sheet and talked quietly
of this thing, there came an engineer officer wandering along the
trench. He had come, crouching, through those two shattered and yawning
bays: he was hot and very angry. 'Why the hell don't you bury those
Turks?' he said, 'they must have been there for weeks!' This is the kind
of charge which infuriates the soldier at any time; and we did not like
the added suggestion that those six good men of the 14th Platoon were
dead Turks. We told him they were Englishmen, dead two hours. 'But, my
God, man,' he said, 'they're black!' We led him back, incredulous, to
the place.

When we got there we understood. Whether from the explosion or the
scorching sun in that airless place, I know not, but those six men were,
as he said, literally black--black and reeking and hideous--and the
flies...!

Harry and I crouched at the end of that bay, truly unable to believe our
eyes. I hope I may never again see such horror as was in Harry's face.
They were his platoon, and he knew them, as an officer should. After the
explosion, there had been only four whom he could definitely identify.
Now there was not one. In two hours...

       *       *       *       *       *

I do not wish to labour this or any similar episode. I have seen many
worse things; every soldier has. In a man's history they are important
only in their effect upon him, and the effect they have is determined by
many things--by his experience, and his health, and his state of mind.
But if you are to understand what I may call the battle-psychology of a
man, as I want you to understand Harry's, you must not ignore particular
incidents. For in this respect the lives of soldiers are not uniform;
though many may live in the same regiment and fight in the same battles,
the experiences which matter come to them diversely--to some crowded and
overwhelming, to some by kind and delicate degrees. And so do their
spirits develop.

These two incidents following so closely upon each other had a most
unhappy cumulative effect on Harry. His night's scouting, in spite of
its miserable end, had not perceptibly dimmed his romantic outlook; it
had been an adventure, and from a military point of view a successful
adventure. The Colonel had been pleased with the reconnaissance, as
such. But the sight of his six poor men, lying black and beastly in that
sunlit hole, had killed the 'Romance of War' for him. Henceforth it must
be a necessary but disgusting business, to be endured like a dung-hill.
But this, in the end, was inevitable; with all soldiers it is only a
matter of time, though for a boy of Harry's temperament it was an ill
chance that it should come so soon.

What was more serious was this. The two incidents had revived, in a most
malignant form, his old distrust of his own competence. I found that he
was brooding over this--accusing himself, quite wrongly, I think, of
being responsible for the death of seven men. He had bungled the
scouting; he had recklessly attracted attention to the party, and
Trower, not he, had paid for it. He had moved four men into a bay where
four others already were, and six of them had been killed. I tried hard
to persuade him, not quite honestly, that he had done absolutely the
right thing. In scouting, of all things, I told him, a man _must_ take
chances; and the matter of the two whizz-bangs was sheer bad luck. It
was no good; he was a fool--a failure. Unconsciously, the Colonel
encouraged this attitude. For, thinking that Harry's nerve might well
have been shaken by his first experience, he would not let him go out on
patrol again on our next 'tour' in the line. I think he was quite
mistaken in this view, for the boy did not even seem to realize how
narrow his own escapes had been, so concerned was he about his lost men.
Nor did this explanation of the Colonel's veto even occur to him. Rather
it confirmed him in his distrust of himself, for it seemed to him that
the Colonel, too, must look upon him as a bungler, a waster of men's
lives....

All this was very bad, and I was much afraid of what the reaction might
be. But there was one bright spot. So far he only distrusted his
military capacity; there was no sign of his distrusting his own courage.
I prayed that that might not follow.



V


Mid-June came with all its plagues and fevers and irritable distresses.
Life in the rest-camp became daily more intolerable. There set in a
steady wind from the north-east which blew all day down the flayed
rest-areas of the Peninsula, raising great columns of blinding,
maddening dust. It was a hot, parching wind, which in no way mitigated
the scorch of the sun, and the dust it brought became a definite enemy
to human peace. It pervaded everything. It poured into every hole and
dug-out, and filtered into every man's belongings; it formed a gritty
sediment in water and tea, it passed into a man with every morsel of
food he ate, and scraped and tore at his inside. It covered his pipe so
that he could not even smoke with pleasure; it lay in a thick coating on
his face so that he looked like a wan ghost, paler than disease had made
him. It made the cleaning of his rifle a too, too frequent farce; it
worked under his breeches, and gathered at the back of his knees,
chafing and torturing him; and if he lay down to sleep in his hole it
swept in billows over his face, or men passing clumsily above kicked
great showers upon him. Sleep was not possible in the rest-camps while
that wind blew. But indeed there were many things which made rest in the
rest-camps impossible. Few more terrible plagues can have afflicted
British troops than the flies of Gallipoli. In May, by comparison, there
were none. In June they became unbearable; in July they were literally
inconceivable. Most Englishmen have lain down some gentle summer day to
doze on a shaded lawn and found that one or two persistent flies have
destroyed the repose of the afternoon; many women have turned sick at
the sight of a blowfly in their butcher's shop. Let them imagine a
semi-tropical sun in a place where there is little or no shade, where
sanitary arrangements are less than primitive, where, in spite of all
precautions, there are scraps of bacon and sugar and tea-leaves lying
everywhere in the dust, and every man has his little daily store of food
somewhere near him, where there are dead bodies and the carcasses of
mules easily accessible to the least venturesome fly--let them read for
'one' fly a hundred, a thousand, a million, and even then they will not
exaggerate the horror of that plague.

Under it the disadvantages of a sensitive nature and a delicate
upbringing were easy to see. An officer lies down in the afternoon to
sleep in his hole. The flies cluster on his face. Patiently, at first,
he brushes them away, with a drill-like mechanical movement of his hand;
by and by he does it angrily; his temper is going. He covers his face
with a handkerchief; it is distressingly hot, but at least he may have
some rest. The flies settle on his hand, on his neck, on the bare part
of his leg. Even there the feel of them is becoming a genuine torment.
They creep under the handkerchief; there is one on his lip, another
buzzing about his eye. Madly he tears off the handkerchief and lashes
out, waving it furiously till the air is free. The flies gather on the
walls of the dug-out, on the waterproof sheet, and watch; they are
waiting motionless till he lies down again. He throws his coat over his
bare knees and lies back. The torment begins again. It is unendurable.
He gets up, cursing, and goes out; better to walk in the hot sun or sit
under the olive-tree in the windy dust.

But look into the crowded ditches of the men. Some of them are fighting
the same fight, hands moving and faces twitching, like the flesh of
horses, automatically. But most of them lie still, not asleep, but in a
kind of dogged artificial insensibility. The flies crowd on their faces;
they swarm about their eyes, and crawl unmolested about their open
mouths. It is a horrible sight, but those men are lucky.

Then there was always a great noise in the camp, for men would be called
for from Headquarters at the end of it or orders passed down, and so
great was the wind and the noise of the French guns and the Turkish
shells, that these messages had to be bawled from man to man. The men
grew lazy from sheer weariness of these messages, so that they were
mutilated as they came and had to be repeated; and there was this babel
always. The men, too, like the officers, became irritable with each
other, and wrangled incessantly over little things; only the officers
argued quietly and bitterly, and the men shouted oaths at each other and
filthy epithets. There was only a yard between the holes of the officers
and the holes of the men, and their raucous quarrelling grated on nerves
already sensitive from the trials of the day, and the officer came near
to cursing his own men; and that is bad.

So there was no rest to be had in the camp during the day; and at night
we marched out in long columns to dig in the whispering gullies, or
unload ships on the beach. There were many of these parties, and we were
much overworked, as all infantry units invariably are; and only at long
intervals there came an evening when a man might lie down under the
perfect stars and sleep all night undisturbed. Then indeed he had rest;
and when he woke to a sudden burst of shell-fire, lay quiet in his hole,
too tired and dreamy to be afraid.

Dust and flies and the food and the water and our weakness joined forces
against us, and dysentery raged among us. There were many who had never
heard of the disease, and thought vaguely of the distemper of dogs.
Those who had heard of it thought of it as something rather romantically
Eastern, like the tsetse fly, and the first cases were invested with a
certain mysterious distinction--especially as most of them were sent
away. But it became universal; everybody had it, and everybody could not
be sent away. One man in a thousand went through that time untouched;
one in ten escaped with a slight attack. But the remainder lived
permanently or intermittently in a condition which in any normal
campaign would have long since sent them on stretchers to the base. The
men could not be spared; they stayed and endured and tottered at their
work. Thus there was every circumstance to encourage infection and
little to resist it. One by one the officers of D Company were stricken.
The first stages were mildly unpleasant, encouraging that comfortable
sense of martyrdom which belongs to a recognized but endurable
complaint. As it grew worse, men became querulous but were still
interested in themselves, and those not in the final stages discussed
their symptoms, emulously, disgustingly--still a little anxious to be
worse than their fellows.

In the worst stage there was no emulation, only a dull misery of
recurrent pain and lassitude and disgust. A man could not touch the
coarse food which was all we had; or, if from sheer emptiness he did,
his sufferings were immediately magnified. Yet always he had a wild
craving for delicate food, and as he turned from the sickening bacon in
the gritty lid of his mess-tin, conjured bright visions of lovely
dainties which might satisfy his longing and give him back his strength.
So men prayed for parcels. But when they came, or when some wanderer
came back from the Islands with a basket of Grecian eggs, too often it
was too late for the sickest men, and their agonies were only increased.
Scientific dieting was impossible. They could only struggle on, for ever
sick, yet for ever on duty: this was the awful thing. When a man reached
this stage, the army was lucky indeed if it did not lose him; he was
lucky himself if he did not die. But so strong is the human spirit and
so patient the human body, that most won through this phase to a
spasmodic existence of alternate sickness and precarious health; and
when they said to themselves 'I am well,' and ate heartily, and said to
their companions 'This and that is what you should do,' the disease
gripped them again, each time more violently. All this sapped the
strength of a man; and finally there came a terrible debility, a kind of
paralysing lassitude when it needed a genuine flogging of the will for
him to lift himself and walk across the camp, and his knees seemed
permanently feeble, as if a fever had just left him. Yet many endured
this condition for weeks and months till the fever definitely took them.
Some became so weak that while they still tottered up to the line and
about their duties, they could not gratuitously drag themselves to the
beach to bathe. Then indeed were they far gone, for the evening swims
were the few paradisial moments of that time. When the sun had but an
hour to live, and the wind and the dust and the flies were already
dwindling, we climbed down a cliff-path where the Indians kept their
sacred but odorous goats. There was a fringe of rocks under the cliffs
where we could dive. There we undressed, hot and grimy, lousy, thirsty,
and tired. Along the rocks solitary Indians were kneeling towards Mecca.
Some of the old battered boats of the first landing were still nosing
the shore, and at a safe distance was a dead mule. The troops did not
come here but waded noisily in the shallow water; so all was quiet, save
for an occasional lazy shell from Asia and the chunk-chunk of a
patrol-boat. The sea at this hour put on its most perfect blue, and the
foot-hills across the Straits were all warm and twinkling in the late
sun. So we sat and drank in the strengthening breeze, and felt the clean
air on our contaminated flesh; and plunging luxuriously into the lovely
water forgot for a magical moment all our weariness and disgust.

When a man could not do this, he was ill indeed.


II

And by this time we had found each other out. We had discovered a true
standard of right and wrong; we knew quite clearly now, some of us for
the first time, what sort of action was 'dirty,' and we were fairly
clear how likely each of us was to do such an action. We knew all our
little weaknesses and most of our serious flaws; under that olive-tree
they could not long be hid. In the pleasant life of London or Oxford we
had had no occasion to do anything dishonourable or underhand; in our
relations with other men we had not even wished to be guilty of anything
worse than mild unkindnesses or consistent unpunctuality. But behind the
footlights of Gallipoli we had found real burning temptations; and we
had found our characters. D Company on the whole was lucky, and had
stood the test well. We knew that Burnett was 'bogus'; but we knew that
Williams of A Company was incalculably more 'bogus'; we had stood in the
dark sap at night and reluctantly overheard the men of his company speak
of him and his officers.

But little weaknesses beget great irritations in that life, and the
intimate problems of communal feeding were enough to search out all our
weaknesses. We knew that some of us, though courageous, were greedy;
that others, though not greedy, were querulous about their food and had
a nasty habit of 'sticking out for their rights': indeed, I think I
developed this habit myself. We had had trouble about parcels. Parcels
in theory were thrown into the common stock of the mess: but Egerton and
Burnett never had parcels, and were by no means the most delicate eaters
of other people's dainties. Harry and Hewett reserved some portion of
each parcel, a cake or a slab of chocolate, which they ate furtively in
their dug-outs, or shared with each other in the dusk; Burnett
ostentatiously endowed the mess with his entire stock, but afterwards at
every meal hinted sombrely at the rapacity of those who had devoured it.
Harry and Hewett each made contributions to the mess; but Harry objected
to the excessive consumption of this food by Burnett, and Hewett, who
gave ungrudgingly to the rest of us, had a similar reservation--never
expressed--as against Egerton. So all this matter of food set in motion
a number of antagonisms seldom or never articulate, but painfully
perceptible at every meal.

The parcel question, I think, was one of the things which embittered the
quarrel between Harry and Burnett. A parcel from home to schoolboys and
soldiers and prisoners and sailors, and all homesick exiles, is the most
powerful emblem of sentiment and affection. A man would willingly
preserve its treasures for himself to gloat over alone, in no mere
fleshly indulgence, but as a concrete expression of affection from the
home for which he longs. This is not nonsense. He likes to undo the
strings in the grubby hole which is his present home, and secretly
become sentimental over the little fond packages and queer, loving
thoughts which have composed it. And though in a generous impulse he may
say to his companions, 'Come, and eat this cake,' and see it in a moment
disappear, it is hard for him not to think, 'My sister (or wife, or
mother) made this _for me_; they thought it would give _me_ pleasure for
many days. Already it is gone--would they not be hurt if they knew?' He
feels that he has betrayed the tenderness of his home; and though the
giving of pleasure to companions he likes may overcome this feeling, the
compulsory squandering of such precious pleasure on a man he despises
calls up the worst bitterness of his heart. So was it between Harry and
Burnett.

If, by the way, it be suggested that Burnett was entitled to feel the
same sentimental jealousy about _his_ parcels, I answer that Burnett's
parcels came on his own order from the soulless hand of Fortnum and
Mason.

All of us were very touchy, very raw and irritable in that fevered
atmosphere. Men who were always late in relieving another on watch, or
unreasonably resented a minute's postponement of their relief, or never
had any article of their own but for ever borrowed mess-tins and
electric torches and note-books from more methodical people, or were
overbearing to batmen, or shifted jobs on to other officers, or slunk
off to bathe alone when they should have taken their sultry
platoon--such men made enemies quickly. Between Eustace and Hewett, who
had been good friends before and were to be good friends again, there
grew up a slow animosity. Hewett was one of the methodical class of
officer, Eustace was one of the persistent borrowers. Moreover, as I
have said, he was a cynic, and he _would_ argue. He had a contentious
remark for every moment of the day; and though this tormented us all
beyond bearing, Hewett was the only one with both the energy and the
intellectual equipment to accept his challenges. So these two argued
quietly and fiercely in the hot noon, or the blue dusk, till the rest of
us were weary of them both, and the sound of Eustace's harsh tones was
an agony to the nerves. They were both too consciously refined to lose
their tempers healthily, and when they reached danger-point, Hewett
would slink away like an injured animal to his burrow. In this conflict
Harry took no speaking part, for while in spirit and affection he was on
Hewett's side, he paid intellectual tribute to Eustace's conduct of the
argument, and listened as a rule in puzzled silence. Eustace again was
his cordial ally against Burnett, while Hewett had merely the
indifference of contempt for that officer.

So it was all a strange tangle of friendship and animosity and
good-nature and bitterness. Yet on the surface, you understand, we lived
on terms of toleration and vague geniality; except for the disputations
of Hewett and Eustace there was little open disagreement. In the
confined space of a company mess permanent hostilities would make life
impossible; it is only generals who are allowed to find that they can no
longer 'act with' each other, and resign: platoon commanders may come to
the same conclusion, but they have to go on acting. And so openly we
laughed and endured and bore with each other. Only there was always this
undertone of irritations and animosities which, in the maddening
conditions of our life, could never be altogether silenced, and might at
any moment rise to a strangled scream.

Harry's appointment as Scout Officer was the first thing to set Burnett
against Harry, though already many things had set Harry against Burnett.
It had been commonly assumed, in view of Burnett's 'backwoods'
reputation, that he would succeed Martin as Scout Officer. The Colonel's
selection of Harry took us a little by surprise, though it only showed
that the Colonel was a keener judge of character and ability than the
rest of us. No one, I think, was more genuinely pleased that Burnett was
not to be Scout Officer than Burnett himself; but in the interests of
his 'dare-devil' pretensions he had to affect an air of disappointment,
and let it be known by grunts and shrugs and sour looks that he
considered the choice of Harry to be an injury to himself and the
regiment. As far as Harry was concerned this resentment of Burnett's was
more or less genuine, for his reluctance to take on the job did not
prevent him being jealous of the man who did.

Then Burnett was one of the people who had nothing of his own, and
seemed to regard Harry, as the youngest of us all, as the proper person
to provide him with all the necessaries of life. In those days we had no
plates or crockery, but ate and drank out of our scratched and greasy
mess-tins. Harry's mess-tin disappeared, and for three days he was
compelled to borrow from Hewett or myself--a tedious and, to him,
hateful business. One day Burnett had finished his meal a long way ahead
of any of us, and Harry, in the desperation of hungry waiting, asked him
for the loan of his mess-tin. Automatically he looked at the bottom of
the tin, and there found his initials inscribed. It was his own tin.
Further, some one had tried to scratch the initials out. Harry kept his
temper with obvious difficulty. Burnett knew well that he had lost his
mess-tin (we were all sick of hearing it), but he said he was quite
ignorant of having it in his possession. When Harry argued with him,
Burnett sent for his batman and cursed him for taking another officer's
property. The wretched man mumbled that he had 'found' it, and withdrew;
and we all sat in silence teeming with distrustful thoughts. We were
sorry for the batman; we were sorry for Harry. Burnett may not have
taken the mess-tin with his own hands, but morally he stood convicted of
an action which was 'dirty.'

Then Burnett and Harry took a working-party together to dig in the
gully. Burnett was the senior officer, but left Harry to work all night
in the whispering rain of stray bullets, while he sat in an Engineers'
dug-out and drank whisky. Harry did not object to this, the absence of
Burnett being always congenial to him. But next day there came a
complimentary message from the Brigadier about the work of that
working-party. Burnett was sent for and warmly praised by the Colonel.
Burnett stood smugly and said nothing. Harry, when he heard of it, was
furious, and wanted, he said, to 'have a row' with him. What he expected
Burnett to say, I don't know; the man could hardly stand before his
Colonel and say, 'Sir, Penrose did all the work, I was in the Engineers'
dug-out nearly all the time with my friends, and had several drinks.' A
row, in any case, would be intolerable in that cramped, intimate
existence, and I dissuaded Harry, though I made Egerton have a few words
with Burnett on the subject. Harry contented himself with ironic
comments on Burnett's 'gallantry' and 'industry,' asking him blandly at
meals if he expected to get his promotion over that working-party, and
suggesting to Egerton that Burnett should take Harry's next turn of duty
'because he is so good at it.' This made Burnett beautifully angry. But
it was bitter badinage, and did not improve the social atmosphere.

There were a number of such incidents between the two; they were very
petty in themselves, some of them, like a fly, but in their cumulative
effect very large and distressing. In many cases there was no verbal
engagement, or only an angry, inarticulate mutter. Public, unfettered
angers were necessarily avoided. But this pent-up, suppressed condition
of the quarrel made it more malignant, like a disease. And it got on
Harry's nerves; indeed, it got on mine. It became an active element in
that vast complex of irritation and decay which was eating into his
young system; it was leagued with the flies, and the dust, and the
smells, and the bad food, and the wind, and the harassing shells of the
Turks, and the disgustful torment of disease.


III

For Harry was a very sick man. He had endured through all the stages of
dysentery, and now lived with that awful legacy of weakness of which I
have spoken. And the disease had not wholly left him, but some days he
lay faint with excruciating spasms of pain. Slightly built and
constitutionally fragile at the beginning, he was now a mere wasted wisp
of a man. The flesh seemed to have melted from his face, and when he
stood naked on the beach it seemed that the moving of his bones must
soon tear holes in the unsubstantial skin. Standing in the trench with
the two points of his collar-bone jutting out like promontories above
his shirt, and a pale film of dust over his face, he looked like the wan
ghost of some forgotten soldier. On the Western Front, where one case of
dysentery created a panic among the authorities, and in the most urgent
days they have never had to rely on skeletons to fight, he would long
since have been bundled off. But in this orgy of disease, no officer
could be sent away who was willing to stay and could still totter up the
gully. And Harry would not go. When he went to the battalion doctor it
was with an airy request for the impotent palliatives then provided for
early dysentery, and with no suggestion of the soul-destroying sickness
that was upon him. One day he would not come down to the rocks and
bathe, so feeble he was. 'I know now,' he said, 'the meaning of that bit
in the psalms, "My knees are like water and all my bones are out of
joint."' 'Harry,' I said, 'you're not fit to stay here--why not go
sick?' At which he smiled weakly, and said that he might be better in a
day or two. Pathetic hope! all men had it. And so Hewett and I walked
down, a little sadly, alone, marvelling at the boy's courage. For it
seemed to us that he wanted to stay and see it through, and if indeed he
might recover we could not afford to lose him. So we said no more.

But by degrees I gained a different impression. Harry still opened his
mind to Hewett and myself more than to any one else, but it was by no
direct speech, rather by the things he did not say, the sentences half
finished, the look in his eyes, that the knowledge came--that Harry did
want to go away. The romantic impulse had perished long since in that
ruined trench; but now even the more mundane zest of doing his duty had
lost its savour in the long ordeal of sickness and physical distress. He
did want to go sick. He had only to speak a word; and still he would not
go. When I knew this, I marvelled at his courage yet more.

For many days I watched him fighting this lonely conflict with himself,
a conflict more terrible and exacting than any battle. Sometimes the
doctor came and sat under our olive-tree, and some of us spoke jestingly
of the universal sickness, and asked him how ill we must be before he
would send us home. Harry alone sat silent; it was no joke to him.

'And how do _you_ feel now, Penrose?' said the doctor. 'Are you getting
your arrow-root all right?' Harry opened his mouth--but for a moment
said nothing. I think it had been in his mind to say what he did feel,
but he only murmured, 'All right, thank you, doctor.' The doctor looked
at him queerly. He knew well enough, but it was his task to keep men on
the Peninsula, not to send them away.

Once I spent an afternoon in one of the hospital ships in the bay: when
I came back and told them of the cool wards and pleasant nurses, and all
the peace and cleanliness and comfort that was there, I caught Harry's
wistful gaze upon me, and I stopped. It was well enough for the rest of
us in comparative health to imagine luxuriously those unattainable
amenities. None of us were ill enough then to go sick if we wished it.
Harry was. And I knew that such talk must be an intolerable temptation.

Then one day, on his way up to the line with a working-party, he nearly
fainted. 'I felt it coming on,' he told me, 'in a block. I thought to
myself, "This is the end of it all for me, anyhow." I actually did go
off for a moment, I think, and then some one pushed me from behind--and
as we moved on it wore off again. I did swear----' Harry stopped,
realizing the confession he had made. I tried to feel for myself the
awful bitterness of that awakening in the stifling trench, shuffling
uphill with the flies.... But he had told me now everything I had only
guessed before, and once more I urged him to go sick and have done with
it.

'I would,' he said, 'only I'm not sure ... I know I'm jolly ill, and not
fit for a thing ... but I'm not sure if it's only that ... I was pretty
brave when I got here, I think' (I nodded), 'and I think I am still ...
but last time we were in the line I found I didn't like looking over the
top nearly so much ... so I want to be sure that I'm quite all right ...
in that way ... before I go sick.... Besides, you know what everybody
says....'

'Nobody could say anything about you,' I told him; 'one's only got to
look at you to see that you've got one foot in the grave.' 'Well, we go
up again to-morrow,' he said, 'and if I'm not better after that, I'll
think about it again.'

I had to be content with that, though I was not content. For my fears
were fulfilled, since in the grip of this sickness he had begun at last
to be doubtful of his own courage.

But that night Burnett went to the doctor and said that he was too ill
to go on. So far as the rest of us knew, he had never had anything but
the inevitable preliminary attack of dysentery, though it is only fair
to say that most of us were so wrapped up in the exquisite contemplation
of our own sufferings, that we had little time to study the condition of
others. The doctor, however, had no doubts about Burnett; he sent him
back to us with a flea in his ear and a dose of chlorodyne. The story
leaked out quickly, and there was much comment adverse to Burnett. When
Harry heard it, he led me away to his dug-out. It was an evening of
heavy calm, like the inside of a cathedral. Only a few mules circling
dustily at exercise in the velvet gloom, and the distant glimmer of the
Scotsmen's fires, made any stir of movement. The men had gone early to
their blankets, and now sang softly their most sentimental songs,
reserved always for the night before another journey to the line. They
sang them in a low croon of ecstatic melancholy, marvellously in tune
with the purple hush of the evening. For all its aching regret it was a
sound full of hope and gentle resolution. Harry whispered to me, 'You
heard about Burnett? Thank God, nobody can say those things about me!
I'm not going off this Peninsula till I'm pushed off.'

I said nothing. It was a heroic sentiment, and this was the heroic hour.
It is what men say in the morning that matters....

In the morning we moved off as the sun came up. There had been heavy
firing nearly all night, and over Achi Baba in the cloudless sky there
hung a portent. It was as though some giant had been blowing
smoke-rings, and with inhuman dexterity had twined and laced these rings
together, without any of them losing their perfection of form.... As the
sun came up these cloud-rings stood out a rosy pink against the blue
distance, and while we marched through the sleeping camps turned gently
through dull gold to pale pearl. I have never known what made this
marvel, a few clouds forgotten by the wind, or the smoke of the night's
battle; but I marched with my eyes upon it all the stumbling way to Achi
Baba. And when I found Harry at a halt, he, too, was gazing at the
wonder with all his men. 'It's an omen,' he said.

'Good or bad?'

'Good,' he said.

I have never understood omens; I suppose they are good or bad according
to the mind of the man who sees them: and I was glad that Harry thought
it was good.



VI


It was one of the Great Dates: one of those red dates which build up the
calendar of a soldier's past, and dwell in his memory when the date of
his own birth is almost forgotten. It is strange what definite
sign-posts these dates of a man's battle--days become in his calculation
of time--like the foundation of Rome. An old soldier will sigh and say,
'Yes, I know that was when Jim died--it was ten days after the Fourth of
June,' or, 'I was promoted the day before the Twelfth of July.'

The years pile up, and zero after zero day is added for ever to his
primitive calendar, and not one of them is thrust from his reverent
memory; but at each anniversary he wakes and says, 'This is the 3rd of
February, or the 1st of July,' and thinks of old companions who went
down on that day; and though he has seen glorious successes since, he
will ever think with a special tenderness of the black early failures
when he first saw battle and his friends going under. And if in any
place where soldiers gather and tell old tales, there are two men who
can say to each other, 'I, too, was at Helles on such a date,' there is
a great bond between them.

On one of these days we sat under the olive-tree and waited. Up the hill
one of that long series of heroic, costly semi-successes was going
through. We were in reserve. We had done six turns in the trenches
without doing an attack. When we came out we were very ready to attack,
very sure of ourselves. Now we were not so sure of ourselves; we were
waiting, and there was a terrible noise. Very early the guns had begun,
and everywhere, from the Straits to the sea, were the loud barkings of
the French 'seventy-fives,' thinly assisted by the British artillery,
which was scanty, and had almost no ammunition. But the big ships came
out from Imbros and stood off and swelled the chorus, dropping their
huge shells on the very peak of the little sugar-loaf that tops Achi
Baba, and covering his western slopes with monstrous eruptions of black
and yellow.

Down in the thirsty wilderness of the rest-camps the few troops in
reserve lay restless under occasional olive-trees, or huddled under the
exiguous shelter of ground-sheets stretched over their scratchings in
the earth. They looked up and saw the whole of the great hill swathed in
smoke and dust and filthy fumes, and heard the ruthless crackle of the
Turks' rifles, incredibly rapid and sustained; and they thought of their
friends scrambling over in the bright sun, trying to get to those
rifles. They themselves were thin and wasted with disease, and this
uncertainty of waiting in readiness for they knew not what plucked at
their nerves. They could not rest or sleep, for the flies crawled over
their mouths and eyes and tormented them ceaselessly, and great storms
of dust swept upon them as they lay. They were parched with thirst, but
they must not drink, for their water-bottles were filled with the day's
allowance, and none knew when they would be filled again. If a man took
out of his haversack a chunk of bread, it was immediately black with
flies, and he could not eat. Sometimes a shell came over the Straits
from Asia with a quick, shrill shriek, and burst at the top of the
cliffs near the staff officers who stood there and gazed up the hill
with glasses. All morning the noise increased, and the shells streamed
up the hill with a sound like a hundred expresses vanishing into a
hundred tunnels: and there was no news. But soon the wounded began to
trickle down, and there were rumours of a great success with terrible
losses. In the afternoon the news became uncertain and disturbing. Most
of the morning's fruits had been lost. And by evening they knew that
indeed it had been a terrible day.

Under our olive-tree we were very fidgety. There had been no mail for
many days, and we had only month-old copies of the _Mail_ and the
_Weekly Times_, which we pretended listlessly to read. Eustace had an
ancient _Nation_, and Hewett a shilling edition of _Vanity Fair_. Harry
in the morning kept climbing excitedly up the trees to gaze at the
obscure haze of smoke on the hill, and trying vainly to divine what was
going on; but after a little he too sat silent and brooding. We were no
longer irritable with each other, but studiously considerate, as if each
felt that to-morrow he might want to take back a spiteful word and the
other be dead. All our valises and our sparse mess-furniture had long
been packed away, for we had now been standing by for twenty-four hours,
and we lay uneasily on the hard ground, shifting continually from
posture to posture to escape the unfriendly protuberances of the soil.
In the tree the crickets chirped on always, in strange indifference to
the storm of noise about them. They were hateful, those crickets.... Now
and then Egerton was summoned to Headquarters; and when he came back
each man said to himself, 'He has got our orders.' And some would not
look at him, but talked suddenly of something else. And some said to him
with a painful cheeriness, 'Any orders?' and when he shook his head,
cursed a little, but in their hearts wondered if they were glad. For the
waiting was bad indeed, but who knew what tasks they would have when
the orders came.... Often the Reserves had the worst of it in these
affairs ... a forlorn hope of an attack without artillery ... digging a
new line under fire ... beating off the counterattack....

But the waiting became intolerable, and all were glad, an hour before
sunset, when we filed off slowly by half-platoons. Every gun was busy
again, and all along the path to the hill batteries of 'seventy-fives'
barked suddenly from unsuspected holes, so close that a man's heart
seemed to halt at the shock. The gully was full of confusion and
wounded, and tired officers and odd groups of men bandying rumours and
arguing in the sun. Half-way up the tale came mysteriously down the line
that we were to attack a trench by ourselves; a whole brigade had tried
and failed--there was a redoubt--there were endless machine-guns....
Some laughed--'a rumour'; but most men felt in their heart that there
was something in it, and inwardly 'pulled themselves together.' At last
they were to be in a real battle, and walk naked in the open through the
rapid fire. And as they moved on, there came over them an overpowering
sense of the irrevocable. They thought of that summer day in 1914 when
they walked light-hearted into the recruiting office. It had seemed a
small thing then, but that was what had done it; had brought them into
this blazing gully, with the frogs croaking, and the men moaning in
corners with their legs messed up.... If they had known about this gully
then and these flies, and this battle they were going to, then, perhaps,
they would have done something else in that August ... gone into a
dockyard ... joined the A.S.C. like Jim Roberts.... Well, they hadn't,
and they were not really sorry ... only let there be no more waiting ...
and let it be quick and merciful, no stomach wounds and nastiness ... no
lying out in the scrub for a day with the sun, and the flies, and no
water.

Look at that officer on the stretcher ... _he_ won't last long ...
remember his face ... his platoon relieved us somewhere ... where was
it?... Hope I don't get one like him ... nasty mess ... would like one
in the shoulder if it's got to be ... hospital ship ... get home,
perhaps ... no, they send you to Egypt ... officer said so.... Hallo,
halting here ... Merton trench ... old Reserve Line.... Getting dark ...
night-attack?... not wait till dawn, I hope ... can't stand much more
waiting.... Pass the word, Company Commanders to see the Colonel ...
that's done it, there goes Egerton ... good man, thinks a lot of me ...
try not to let him down....

But what Egerton and the others heard from the Colonel made a vain thing
of all this bracing of men's spirits. There was a muddle; the attack was
cancelled ... no one knew where the Turks were, where anybody was ... we
were to stay the night in this old reserve trench and relieve the front
line in the morning....

When Egerton told his officers only Burnett spoke: he said 'Damn. _As_
usual. I wanted a go at the old Turks': and we knew that it was not
true. The rest of us said nothing, for we were wondering if it were true
of ourselves. I went with Harry to his platoon; they too said nothing,
and their faces were expressionless.

But they were cold now, and hungry, and suddenly very tired; and they
had no real fire of battle in them; they had waited too long for this
crowning experience of an attack, braced themselves for it too often to
be disappointed; and I knew that they were glad. But they did not mind
being glad; they pondered no doubts about themselves, only curled up
like animals in corners to sleep....

Harry, too, no doubt, had braced himself like the rest of us, and he,
too, must have been glad, glad to lie down and look forward after all to
seeing another sunrise. But I thought of his doubts about himself, and I
felt that this business was far from easing his burden. For me and for
the men it was a simple thing--the postponement of a battle with the
Turks; for Harry it was the postponement of a personal test: the battle
inside him still went on; only it went on more bitterly.


II

There was a great muddle in front. Troops of two different brigades were
hopelessly entangled in the shallow trenches they had taken from the
Turks. They had few officers left, and their staffs had the most
imperfect impressions of the whereabouts of their mangled commands. So
the sun was well up when we finally took over the line; this was in
defiance of all tradition, but the Turk was shaken and did not molest
us. The men who passed us on their way down grimly wished us joy of what
they had left; their faces were pale and drawn, full of loathing and
weariness, but they said little; and the impression grew that there was
something up there which they could not even begin to describe. It was a
still, scorching morning, and as we moved on the air became heavy with a
sickening stench, the most awful of all smells that man can be called to
endure, because it preyed on the imagination as well as the senses. For
we knew now what it was. We came into a Turkish trench, broad and
shallow. In the first bay lay two bodies--a Lowlander and a Turk. They
lay where they had killed each other, and they were very foul and
loathsome in the sun. A man looked up at them and passed on, thinking,
'Glad I haven't got to stay here.' In the next bay there were three
dead, all Englishmen; and in the next there were more--and he thought,
'It was a hot fight just here.' But as he moved on, and in each
succeeding bay beheld the same corrupt aftermath of yesterday's battle,
the suspicion came to him that this was no local horror. Over the whole
front of the attack, along two lines of trenches, these regiments of
dead were everywhere found, strung in unnatural heaps along the
parapets, or sprawling horribly half into the trench so that he touched
them as he passed. Yet still he could not believe, and at each corner
thought, 'Surely there will be none in this bay.'

But always there were more; until, if he were not careful or very
callous, it began to get on his nerves, so that at the traverses he
almost prayed that there might be no more beyond. Yet many did not
realize what was before them till they were finally posted in the bays
they were to garrison--three or four in a bay. Then they looked up at
the sprawling horrors on the parapet and behind them--just above their
heads, and knew that these were to be their close companions all that
sweltering day, and perhaps beyond. The regiment we had relieved had
been too exhausted by the attack, or too short-handed, to bury more than
a few, and the Turkish snipers made it impossible to do anything during
the day. And so we sat all the scorching hours of the sun, or moved
listlessly up and down, trying not to look upwards.... But there was a
hideous fascination about the things, so that after a few hours a man
came to know the bodies in his bay with a sickening intimacy, and could
have told you many details about each of them--their regiment, and how
they lay, and how they had died, and little things about their uniforms,
a missing button, or some papers, or an old photograph sticking out of a
pocket.... All of them were alive with flies, and at noon when we took
out our bread and began to eat, the flies rose in a great black swarm
and fell upon the food in our hands. After that no one could eat. All
day men were being sent away by the doctor, stricken with sheer nausea
by the flies and the stench and the things they saw, and went retching
down the trench. To keep away the awful reek we went about for a little
in the old gas-helmets, but the heat and burden of them in the hot,
airless trench was intolerable. The officers had no dug-outs, but sat
under the parapets, like the men. No officer went sick; no officer could
be spared; and indeed we seemed to have a greater power of resistance to
this ordeal of disgust than the men. But I don't know how Harry survived
it. Being already in a very bad way physically, it affected him more
than the rest of us, and it was the first day I had seen his
cheerfulness defeated. At the worst he had always been ready to laugh a
little at our misfortunes, the great safety-valve of a soldier, and make
ironical remarks about Burnett or the Staff. This day he had no laugh
left in him, and I thought sadly of that first morning when he jumped
over the parapet to look at a dead Turk. He had seen enough now.

In the evening the Turk was still a little chastened, and all night we
laboured at the burying of the bodies. It was bad work, but so strong
was the horror upon us that every man who could be spared took his part,
careless of sleep or rest, so long as he should not sit for another day
with those things. But we could only bury half of them that night, and
all the next day we went again through that lingering torment. And in
the afternoon when we had orders to go up to the front line after dusk
for an attack, we were glad. It was one of the very few moments in my
experience when the war-correspondent's legend of a regiment's pleasure
at the prospect of battle came true. For anything was welcome if only we
could get out of that trench, away from the smell and the flies, away
from those bodies....


III

I am not going to tell you all about that attack, only so much of it as
affects this history, which is the history of a man and not of the war.
It was a one-battalion affair, and eventually a failure. D Company was
in reserve, and our only immediate task was to provide a small
digging-party, forty men under an officer, to dig some sort of
communication ditch to the new line when taken. Burnett was told off for
this job; we took these things more or less in turn, and it was his
turn. And Burnett did not like it. We sat round a single candle under a
waterproof sheet in a sort of open recess at the back of the front line,
while Egerton gave him his orders. And there ran in my head the old bit
about 'they all began with one accord to make excuse.' Burnett made no
actual excuse; he could not. But he asked aggressive questions about the
arrangements which plainly said that he considered this task too
dangerous and too difficult for Burnett. He wanted more men, he wanted
another officer--but no more could be spared from an already small
reserve. He was full of 'the high ground on the right' from which his
party would 'obviously' be enfiladed and shot down to a man. However, he
went. And we sat listening to the rapid fire or the dull thud of bombs,
until in front a strange quiet fell, but to right and left were the
sounds of many machine-guns. As usual, no one knew what had happened,
but we expected a summons at any moment. We were all restless and jumpy,
particularly Harry. For a man who has doubts of himself or too much
imagination, to be in reserve is the worst thing possible. Harry was
talkative again, and held forth about the absurdity of the whole attack,
as to which he was perfectly right. But I felt that all the time he was
thinking, 'Shall I do the right thing? shall I do the right thing? shall
I make a mess of it?'

I went out and looked over the parapet, but could make nothing out. Then
I saw two figures loom through the dark and scramble into the trench.
And after them came others all along the line, coming in anyhow, in
disorder. Then Burnett came along the trench, and crawled in under the
waterproof sheet. I followed. 'It's no good,' he was saying, 'the men
won't stick it. It's just what I told you ... enfiladed from that high
ground over there--two machine-guns....'

'How many casualties have you had?' said Egerton.

'One killed, and two wounded.'

There was silence, but it was charged with eloquent thoughts. It was
clear what had happened. The machine-guns were firing blindly from the
right, probably over the heads of the party. The small casualties showed
that. Casualties are the test. No doubt the men had not liked the stream
of bullets overhead; at any moment the gun might lower. But there was
nothing to prevent the digging being done, given an officer who would
assert himself and keep the men together. That was what an officer was
for. And Burnett had failed. He had let the company down.

Egerton, I knew, was considering what to do. The job had to be done. But
should he send Burnett again, with orders not to return until he had
finished, as he deserved, or should he send a more reliable officer and
make sure?

Then Harry burst in: 'Let me take my platoon,' he said, 'they'll stick
it all right.' And his tone was full of contempt for Burnett, full of
determination. No doubts about him now.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, we sent him out with his platoon. And all night they dug and
sweated in the dark. The machine-gun did lower at times, and there were
many casualties, but Harry moved up and down in the open, cheerful and
encouraging, getting away the wounded, and there were no signs of the
men not sticking it. I went out and stayed with him for an hour or so,
and thought him wonderful. Curious from what strange springs inspiration
comes. For Harry, for the second time, had been genuinely inspired by
the evil example of his enemy. Probably, in the first place, he had
welcomed the chance of doing something at last, of putting his doubts to
the test, but I am sure that what chiefly carried him through that
night, weak and exhausted as he was, was the thought, 'Burnett let them
down; Burnett let them down; I'm not going to let them down.' Anyhow he
did very well.

But in the morning he was carried down to the beach in a high fever. And
perhaps it was just as well, for I think Burnett would have done him a
mischief.



VII


So Harry stayed till he was 'pushed' off, as he had promised. And I was
glad he had gone like that. I had long wanted him to leave the Peninsula
somehow, for I felt he should be spared for greater things, but, knowing
something of his peculiar temperament, I did not want his career there
to end on a note of simple failure--a dull surrender to sickness in the
rest-camp. As it turned out, the accident of the digging-party, and the
way in which Harry had seized his chance, sent him off with a renewed
confidence in himself and, with regard to Burnett, even a sense of
triumph. So I was not surprised when his letters began to reveal
something of the old enthusiastic Harry, chafing at the dreary routine
of the Depot, and looking for adventure again.... But I am anticipating.

They sent him home, of course. It was no good keeping any one in his
condition at Egypt or Malta, for the prolonged dysentery had produced
the usual complications. I had a letter from Malta, and one from the
Mediterranean Club at Gibraltar, where he had a sultry week looking over
the bay, seeing the ships steam out for England, he told me, and longing
to be in one. For it took many months to wash away the taste of the
Peninsula, and much more than the austere comforts of the hospital at
Gibraltar. Even the hot August sun in the Alameda was hatefully
reminiscent. Then six weeks' milk diet at a hospital in Devonshire,
convalescence, and a month's leave.

Then Harry married a wife. I did not know the lady--a Miss
Thickness--and she does not come into the story very much, though she
probably affected it a good deal. Wives usually do affect a soldier's
story, though they are one of the many things which by the absolute
official standard of military duty are necessarily not reckoned with at
all. Not being the president of a court-martial I did reckon with it;
and when I had read Harry's letter about his wedding I said: 'We shan't
see _him_ again.' For in those early years it was generally assumed that
a man returned from service at the front need not go out again (unless
he wished) for a period almost incalculably remote. And being a newly
married man myself, I had no reason to suppose that Harry would want to
rush into the breach just yet.

But about May--that would be 1916; we had done with Gallipoli and come
to France, after four months' idling in the Aegean Islands--I had
another letter, much delayed, from which I will give you an extract:

_'I never thought I should want to go out again (you remember we all
swore we never should) but I do. I'm fed to the teeth with this place_
(the Depot, in Dorsetshire); _nothing but company drill and lectures on
march discipline, and all the old stuff. We still attack Hill 219 twice
weekly in exactly the same way, and still no one but a few of the
officers knows exactly which hill it is, since we always stop halfway
for lunch-time, or because there's hopeless confusion.... There's nobody
amusing here. Williams has got a company and swanks like blazes about
'the front,' but I think most people see through him.... My wife's got
rooms in a cottage near here, but they won't let me sleep out, and I
don't get there till pretty late most days.... Can't you get the Colonel
to apply for me? I don't believe it's allowed, but he's sure to be able
to wangle it. Otherwise I shall be here for the rest of the war, because
the more you've been out the less likely you are to get out again, if
you want to, while there are lots who don't want to go, and wouldn't be
any earthly good, and stand in hourly danger of being sent.... I want to
see France....'_

I answered on a single sheet:

_'All very well, but what about Mrs. P.? Does she concur?'_ (I told you
I was a married man.)

His answer was equally brief:

_'She doesn't know, but she would.'_

Well, it wasn't my business, so we 'wangled' it (I was adjutant then),
and Harry came out to France. But I was sorry for Mrs. Penrose.


II

I do not know if all this seems tedious and unnecessary; I hope not, for
it is very relevant to the end of the story, and if this record had been
in the hands of certain persons the end of the story might have been
different. I do not know. Certainly it ought to have been different.

Anyhow, Harry came to France and found us in the line at Souchez. The
recuperative power of the young soldier is very marvellous. No one but
myself would have said that this was not the same Harry of a year ago;
for he was fit and fresh and bubbling over with keenness. Only myself,
who had sat over the Dardanelles with him and talked about Troy, knew
what was missing. There were no more romantic illusions about war, and,
I think, no more military ambitions. Only he was sufficiently rested to
be very keen again, and had not yet seen enough of it to be ordinarily
bored.

And in that summer of 1916 there was much to be said for life in the
Souchez sector. It was a 'peace-time' sector, where divisions stayed for
months at a time, and one went in and out like clockwork at ritual
intervals, each time into the same trenches, the same deep dug-outs,
each time back to the same billets, or the same huts in the same wood.
All the deserted fields about the line were a mass of poppies and
cornflowers, and they hung over one in extravagant masses as one walked
up the communication trench. In the thick woods round Bouvigny and
Noulette there were clusters of huts where the resting time was very
warm and lazy and companionable, with much white wine and singing in the
evenings. Or one took a horse and rode into Coupigny or Barlin where
there had not been too much war, but one could dine happily at the best
estaminet, and then ride back contentedly under the stars.

In the line also there was not too much war. Few of the infantry on
either side ever fired their rifles; and only a few bombers with rifle
grenades tried to injure the enemy. There were short sectors of the line
on either side which became spasmodically dangerous because of these
things, and at a fixed hour each day the Germans blew the same portions
of the line to dust with minenwerfers, our men having departed elsewhere
half an hour previously, according to the established routine from which
neither side ever diverged. Our guns were very busy by spasms, and every
day destroyed small sections of the thick red masses of the German wire,
which were every night religiously repaired. The German guns were very
few, for the Somme battle was raging, but at times they flung
whizz-bangs vaguely about the line or dropped big shells on the great
brows of the Lorette Heights behind us. From the high ground we held
there was a good view, with woods and red and white villages on the far
hills beyond the Germans; and away to the left one looked over the
battered pit country towards Lens, with everywhere the tall pit-towers
all crumpled and bent into uncouth shapes, and grey slag-heaps rising
like the Pyramids out of a wilderness of broken red cottages. To the
south-east began the Vimy Ridge, where the red Pimple frowned over the
lines at the Lorette Heights, and all day there was the foam and
blackness of bursting shells.

In the night there was much patrolling and bursts of machine-gun fire,
and a few snipers, and enormous labours at the 'improvement of the
line,' wiring and revetting, and exquisite work with sand-bags.

It was all very gentle and friendly and artificial, and we were happy
together.

Burnett had left us, on some detached duty or other, and in that gentler
atmosphere Eustace was a good companion again.

Men grew lusty and well, and one could have continued there indefinitely
without much injury to body or mind. But sometimes on a clear night we
saw all the southern sky afire from some new madness on the Somme, and
knew that somewhere in France there was real war. The correspondents
wrote home that the regiments 'condemned so long to the deadening
inactivity of trench warfare were longing only for their turn at the
Great Battle.' No doubt they had authority: though I never met one of
those regiments. For our part we were happy where we were. We had had
enough for the present.


III

But I digress. And yet--no. For I want you to keep this idea of the
diversity of war conditions before you, and how a man may be in a
fighting unit for many months and yet go unscathed even in spirit. Or in
the most Arcadian parts of the battle area he may come alone against
some peculiar shock from which he never recovers. It is all chance.

We made Harry scout officer again, and he was very keen. Between us and
the German lines was a honeycomb of old disused trenches where French
and Germans had fought for many months before they sat down to watch
each other across this maze. They were all overgrown now with flowers
and thick grasses, but for the purposes of future operations it was
important to know all about them, and every night Harry wriggled out and
dropped into one of these to creep and explore, and afterwards put them
on the map. Sometimes I went a little way with him, and I did not like
it. It was very creepy in those forgotten alleys, worse than crawling
outside in the open, I think, because of the intense blackness and the
infinite possibilities of ambush.

The Boches, we knew, were playing the same game as ourselves, and might
always be round the next traverse, so that every ten yards one went
through a new ordeal of expectancy and stealthy, strained investigation.
One stood breathless at the corner, listening, peering, quivering with
the strain of it, and then a rat dropped into the next 'bay,' or behind
us one of our Lewis guns blazed off a few bursts, shattering the
silence. Surely there was some one near moving hurriedly under cover of
the noise! Then you stood again, stiff and cramped with the stillness,
and you wanted insanely to cough, or shift your weight on to the other
foot, or your nose itched and the grasses tickled your ear--but you must
not stir, must hardly breathe. For now all the lines have become
mysteriously hushed, and no man fires; far away one can hear the rumble
of the German limbers coming up with rations to the dump, and the quiet
becomes unbearable, so that you long for some Titanic explosion to break
it and set you free from waiting. Then a machine-gun opens again, and
you slip round the corner to find--nothing at all, only more blackness
and the rats scuttling away into the grass, and perhaps the bones of a
Frenchman. And then you begin all over again.... When he has done this
sort of thing many times without any happening, an imperfect scout
becomes careless through sheer weariness, and begins to blunder noisily
ahead. And sooner or later he goes under. But Harry was a natural scout,
well trained, and from first to last kept the same care, the same
admirable patience, and this means a great strain on body and mind....
In those old trenches you could go right up to the German line, two
hundred yards away, and this Harry often did. The Germans had small
posts at these points, waiting, and were very ready with bombs and rifle
grenades. It was a poor look-out if you were heard about there, and
perhaps badly wounded, so that you could not move, two hundred yards
away from friends and all those happy soldiers who spent their nights
comfortably in trenches when you were out there on your stomach. Perhaps
your companion would get away and bring help. Or he too might be hit or
killed, and then you would lie there for days and nights, alone in a
dark hole, with the rats scampering and smelling about you, till you
died of starvation or loss of blood. You would lie there listening to
your own men chattering in the distance at their wiring, and neither
they nor any one would find you or know where you were, till months
hence some other venturesome scout stumbled on your revolver in the
dark. Or maybe the line would advance at last, and some salvage party
come upon your uniform rotting in the ditch, and they would take off
your identity disk and send it in to Headquarters, and shovel a little
earth above your bones. It might be many years....

I am not an imaginative man, but that was the kind of thought I had
while I prowled round with Harry (and I never went so far as he). He
even had an occasional jest at the Germans, and once planted an old
dummy close up to their lines. There was stony ground there, and, as
they took it there, he told me, it clattered. The next night he went
there again in case the Germans came out to capture 'Reggie.' They did
not, but every evening for many months they put a barrage of
rifle-grenades all about that dummy.

Then there was much talk of 'raids,' and all the opposite wire had to be
patrolled and examined for gaps and weak places. This meant crawling in
the open close up to the enemy, naked under the white flares; and
sometimes they fell to earth within a few feet of a scout and sizzled
brilliantly for interminable seconds; there was a sniper somewhere near,
and perhaps a machine-gun section, and surely they could see him, so
large, so illuminated, so monstrously visible he felt. It was easy when
there was not too much quiet, but many echoes of scattered shots and the
noise of bullets rocketing into space, or long bursts of machine-gun
fire, to cover your movements. But when that terrible silence fell it
was very difficult. For then how loud was the rustle of your stealthiest
wriggle, how sinister the tiny sounds of insects in the grass.
Everywhere there were stray strands of old barbed wire which caught in
your clothes and needed infinite patience to disentangle; when you got
rid of one barb another clung to you as the wire sprang back, or, if you
were not skilful, it clashed on a post or a rifle, or a tin can, with a
noise like cymbals. You came across strange things as you crawled out
there--dead bodies, and bits of equipment, and huge unexploded shells.
Or you touched a rat or a grass-snake that made you shiver as it moved;
the rats and the field-mice ran over you if you lay still for long, and
once Harry saw a German patrol-dog sniffing busily in front of him.
Sometimes as you went up wind you put your hand suddenly on a dead man,
and had to lie close beside him for cover. Or you scented him far off
like a dog nosing through the grass, and made him a landmark, whispering
to your companion, 'Keep fifty yards from the dead 'un,' or 'Make for
the dead Boche.'

When the lights went up you lay very close, peering ahead under your
cap; and as they fell away to the ground all your vision became full of
moving things and fugitive shadows. The thick rows of wiring posts
looked like men working, and that cluster of stones like the head of a
man in a shell-hole, watching ... watching you ... gone in an
instant.... Then you waited tensely for the next light. There is the
murmur of voices somewhere, very difficult to locate. For a long while
you stalk it, ready to attack some patrol, some working-party. Then you
hear a familiar Tyneside curse ... it is A Company wiring, with much
noise.

All this, as I have said, is a heavy strain on mind and body and nerve.
It requires a peculiar kind of courage, a lonely, cold-blooded kind of
courage. Many men who would do well in a slap-dash fight in the light of
day are useless as scouts. Not only are they noisy and impatient, but
they cannot stand it.

And yet it is no job for a very imaginative man. There are too many
things you can imagine, if you once begin. The more you know about it,
the more there is to imagine, and the greater the strain becomes. Now
Harry had a very vivid imagination, and he knew all about it--and yet he
played this game nearly every night we were in the line for three
months ... nothing theatrical, you understand, nor even heroic by popular
standards, no stabbing affrays, no medals ... but by my standards it
_was_ very nearly heroic, and I don't know how he did it.

But this was forgotten later on.


IV

Then Harry had a shock. There was a large sap running out from our line
along the crown of a steep ridge. This sap was not held during the day,
but at night was peopled with bombers and snipers, and it was a great
starting-place for the patrols. One night Harry went out from this sap
and crawled down the face of the ridge. It was a dark night, and the
Boches were throwing up many flares. One of these came to earth ten
yards from Harry. At that moment he was halfway down the slope, crouched
on one knee. However, when flares are about, to keep still in any
posture is better than to move, so Harry remained rigid. But one of the
new scouts behind was just leaving the sap, and hovered uncertainly on
the skyline as the light flared and sizzled below. Possibly he was seen,
possibly what followed was a chance freak of the Germans. Anyhow, a
moment later they opened with every machine-gun in the line, with
rifles, rifle-grenades, and high-velocity shells. So venomous was the
fire that every man in the line believed--and afterwards hotly
asserted--that the whole fury of it was concentrated on his particular
yard of trench. Few of us thought of the unhappy scouts lying naked
outside. Harry, of course, flattened himself to the ground, and tried to
wriggle into a hollow; on level ground you may with luck be safe under
wild fire of this kind for a long time. Being on a slope, Harry was
hopelessly exposed. 'I lay there,' he told me, 'and simply sweated with
funk; you won't believe me, but at one time I could literally _feel_ a
stream of machine-gun bullets ruffling my hair, and thudding into the
bank just above my back ... and they dropped half a dozen whizz-bangs
just in front of me. While it was going on I couldn't have moved for a
thousand pounds.... I felt _pinned_ to the ground ... then there was a
lull, and I leapt up ... so did old Smith ... bolted for the sap, and
simply dived in head first ... they were still blazing off sixteen to
the dozen, and it was the mercy of God we weren't hit ... talk about
wind-up.... And when we got in two bombers thought it was an attack, and
took us for Boches.... Rather funny, while the strafe was going on I
kept thinking, "Poor old Smith, he's a married man" (he was a few yards
from me) ... and Smith tells me _he_ was thinking, "Mr. Penrose ... a
married man ... married man...." What about some more whisky?'

Well, he made a joke of it, as one tries to do as long as possible, and
that night was almost happily exhilarated, as a man sometimes is after
escaping narrowly from an adventure. But I could see that it had been a
severe shock. The next night he had a cold and a bad cough, and said he
would not go out for fear of 'making a noise and giving the show away.'
The following night he went out, but came in very soon, and sat rather
glum in the dug-out, thinking of something. (I always waited up till he
came in to report, and we used to 'discuss the situation' over some
whisky or a little white wine.)

The following day the Colonel gave him a special job to do. There was
the usual talk of a 'raid' on a certain section of the enemy lines; but
there was a theory that this particular section had been evacuated.
Flares were sent up from all parts of it, but this was supposed to be
the work of one man, a hard worker, who walked steadily up and down,
pretending to be a company. Harry was told off to test the truth of this
myth--to get right up to that trench, to look in, and see what was in
it. It was a thing he had done twice before, at least, though myself I
should not have cared to do it at all. It meant the usual breathless,
toilsome wriggle across No Man's Land, avoiding the flares and the two
snipers who covered that bit of ground, finding a gap in the wire,
getting through without being seen, without noise, without catching his
clothes on a wandering barb, or banging his revolver against a multitude
of tin cans. Then you had to listen and wait, and, if possible, get a
look into the trench. When (and if) you had done that you had to get
back, turn round in a tiny space, pass the same obstacles, the same
snipers.... If at any stage you were spotted the odds against your
getting back at all were extremely large....

However, Harry was a scout, and it was his job. In the afternoon of that
day I met him somewhere in the line and made some would-be jocular
remark about his night's work. He seemed to me a little worried,
preoccupied, and answered shortly. Hewett was sitting near, shaving in
the sun, and said to him: 'You're a nasty, cold-blooded fellow, Harry,
crawling about like a young snake every night. But I suppose you like
it.'

Harry said slowly, with a casual air: 'Well, so I did, but I must say
that strafe the other night put the wind up me properly--and when I went
out last night I found I was thinking all the time, "Suppose they did
that again?" ... and when I got on the top of a ridge or anywhere a bit
exposed, I kept imagining what it would be like if all those
machine-guns started just then ... simply dashed into a shell-hole ...
and I found myself working for safe spots where one would be all right
in case of accidents.... Sort of lost confidence, you know.'

It was all said in a matter-of-fact manner, as if he was saying, 'I
don't like marmalade so much as I used to do,' and there was no
suggestion that he was not ready to go and look in the Boche Front Line
or the Unter den Linden, if necessary. But I was sorry about this. I
told him that he must not imagine; that that strafe was an unique
affair, never likely to be repeated. But when I went back to the dug-out
I spoke to the Colonel.

That night I went up with Harry to Foster Alley, and watched him
writhing away into the grey gloom. There were many stars, and you could
follow him for thirty yards. And as I watched I wondered, 'Is he
thinking, "_Supposing they do that again?_" and when he gets over near
the wire, will he be thinking, "_What would happen if they saw me now?_"
If so,' I said, 'God help him,' and went back to Headquarters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three hours later he came into the dug-out, where I sat with the Colonel
making out an Intelligence Report. He was very white and tired, and
while he spoke to the Colonel he stood at the bottom of the muddy steps
with his head just out of the candlelight. All the front of his tunic
was muddy, and there were two rents in his breeches.

He said, 'Very sorry, sir, but I couldn't get through. I got pretty
close to the wire, but couldn't find a gap.' 'Was there much firing?'
said the Colonel. 'The usual two snipers and a machine-gun on the left;
from what I heard I should say there were a good many men in that part
of the trench--but I couldn't swear.' Now what the Colonel had wanted
was somebody who _could_ swear; that was what the Brigade wanted; so he
was not pleased. But he was a kind, understanding fellow, and all he
said was, 'Well, I'm sorry, too, Penrose, but no doubt you did your
best.' And he went to bed.

Then I opened some Perrier (we still had Perrier then), and gave Harry a
strong whisky, and waited. For I knew that there was more. He talked for
a little, as usual, about the mud, and the Boche line, and so on, and
then he said: 'What I told the Colonel was perfectly true--I did get
pretty close to the wire, and there wasn't a gap to be seen--but that
wasn't the whole of it ... I couldn't face it.... The truth is, that
show the other night was too much for me.... I found myself lying in a
shell-hole pretending to myself that I was listening, and watching, and
so on, but really absolutely stuck, trying to _make_ myself go on ...
and I couldn't.... I'm finished as a scout ... that's all.'

Well, it was all for the present. No thinking, human C.O. is going to
run a man in for being beaten by a job like that. It is a specialist's
affair, like firing a gun. It is his business to put the right man on
the job, and if he doesn't, he can't complain.

So we made Harry Lewis gun officer. And that was the first stage.



VIII


Soon after that we went down to the Somme. It was autumn then, and all
that desolate area of stark brown earth was wet and heavy and stinking.
Down the Ancre valley there were still some leaves in Thiepval Wood, and
the tall trees along the river were green and beautiful in the thin
October sun. But the centre of battle was coming up to that valley; in a
month the green was all gone, and there was nothing to see but the
endless uniform landscape of tumbled earth and splintered trunks, and
only the big shells raising vain waterspouts in the wide pools of the
Ancre gave any brightness to the tired eye.

But you know about all this. Every Englishman has a picture of the Somme
in his mind, and I will not try to enlarge it. We were glad, in a way,
to go there, not in the expectation of liking it, but on the principle
of Henry v.'s speech on the eve of St. Crispin. We saw ourselves in
hospitals, or drawing-rooms, or bars, saying, 'Yes, we were six months
on the Somme' (as indeed we were); we were going to be 'in the swing.'
But it was very vile. After Souchez it was real war again, and many
Souchez reputations wilted there and died. Yet with all its horror and
discomfort and fear that winter was more bearable than the Gallipoli
summer. For, at the worst, there was a little respite, spasms of repose.
You came back sometimes to billets, cold, bare, broken houses, but still
houses, where you might make a brave blaze of a wood fire and huddle
round it in a cheery circle with warm drinks and a song or two. And
sometimes there were estaminets and kind French women; or you went far
back to an old château, perched over the village, and there was bridge
and a piano and guests at Headquarters. Civilization was within reach,
and sometimes you had a glimpse of it--and made the most of it.

But we had a bad time, as every one did. After a stiff three weeks of
holding a nasty bit of the line, much digging of assembly trenches, and
carrying in the mud, we took our part in a great battle. I shall not
tell you about it (it is in the histories); but it was a black day for
the battalion. We lost 400 men and 20 officers, more than twice the
total British casualties at Omdurman. Hewett was killed and six other
officers, the Colonel and twelve more were wounded. Eustace showed
superb courage with a hideous wound. Harry and myself survived. Now I
had made a mistake about Harry. After that scouting episode at Souchez I
told myself that his 'nerve' was gone, that for a little anyhow he would
be no good in action. But soon after we got to the Somme he had
surprised me by doing a very good piece of work under fire. We were
digging a new 'jumping-off' line in No Man's Land, two hundred men at
work at once. They were spotted, the Boches dropped some Minnies about,
and there was the beginnings of a slight stampede--you know the sort of
thing--mythical orders to 'Retire' came along. All Harry did was to get
the men back and keep them together, and keep them digging: the
officer's job--but he did very well, and to me, as I say, surprisingly
well. The truth was, as I afterwards perceived, that only what I may
call his 'scouting' nerve was gone. It is a peculiar kind of
super-nerve, as I have tried to show, and losing it he had lost a very
valuable quality, but that was all at present.

Or I may put it another way. There is a theory held among soldiers,
which I will call the theory of the favourite fear. Every civilian has
his favourite fear, death by burning or by drowning, the fear of falling
from a great height, or being mangled in a machine--something which it
makes us shiver to think about. Among soldiers such special fears are
even more acute, though less openly confessed, but in the evenings men
will sometimes lie on the straw in the smoky barns and whisper the
things of which they are most afraid.

It is largely a matter of locality and circumstance. In Gallipoli, where
the Turks' rapid musketry fire was almost incredibly intense and their
snipers uncannily accurate, men would say that they hated bullets, but
shell-fire left them unmoved. The same men travelled to France and found
rifle fire practically extinct but gun-power increasingly terrible, and
rapidly reversed their opinions.

More often, however, there has been some particular experience which,
out of a multitude of shocks, has been able to make a lasting
impression, and leave behind it the favourite fear.

One man remembers the death of a friend caught by the gas without his
gas mask, and is possessed with the fear that he may one day forget his
own and perish in the same agony. And such is the effect on conduct of
these obsessions that this man will neglect the most ordinary
precautions against other dangers, will be reckless under heavy
shell-fire, but will not move an inch without his respirator.

With others it is the fear of being left to die between the lines,
caught on the wire and riddled by both sides, the fear of snipers, of
5-9's, even of whizz-bangs. One man feels safe in the open, but in the
strongest dug-out has a horror that it may be blown in upon him. There
is the fear of the empty trench, where, like a child on the dark
staircase, another man is convinced that there are enemies lying behind
the parapet ready to leap upon him; and there is the horror of being
killed on the way down from the line after a relief.

But most to be pitied of all the men I have known, was one who had
served at Gallipoli in the early days; few men then could have an
orderly burial in a recognized ground, but often the stretcher-bearers
buried them hastily where they could in and about the lines. This man's
fear was that one day a sniper would get him in the head; that unskilled
companions would pronounce his death sentence, and that he would wake
up, perhaps within a few yards of his own trench, and know that he was
buried but not dead.

That was how it was with Harry. The one thing he could not face at
present was crawling lonely in the dark with the thought of that tornado
of bullets in his head. Nothing else frightened him--now--more than it
frightened the rest of us, though, God knows, that was enough.

So that he did quite well in this battle in a sound, undistinguished
way. He commanded a platoon for the occasion, and took them through the
worst part of the show without exceptional losses; and he got as far as
any of the regiment got. He held out there for two days under very heavy
shell-fire, with a mixed lot of men from several battalions, and a
couple of strange officers. In the evening of the second day we were to
be relieved, and being now in command I sent him down with a runner to
Brigade Headquarters to fix up a few points about our position and the
relief. There was a terrific barrage to pass, but both of them got
through. When his business was done he started back to rejoin the
battalion. By that time it was about eleven o'clock at night, and the
relief was just beginning; there was no reason why he should have come
back at all; indeed, the Brigade Major told him he had better not, had
better wait there in the warm dug-out, and join us as we passed down.
Now when a man has been through a two days' battle of this kind, has had
no sleep and hardly any food for two days, and finished up with a
two-mile trudge over a stony wilderness of shell-holes, through a
vicious barrage of heavy shells; when after all this he finds himself,
worn and exhausted so that he can hardly stand, but safe and comfortable
in a deep dug-out where there are friendly lights and the soothing
voices of calm men; and when he has the choice of staying there, the
right side of the barrage, till it is time to go out to rest, or of
going back through that same barrage, staggering into the same
shell-holes, with the immediate prospect _of doing it all over again
with men to look after as well as himself_--well, the temptation is
almost irresistible. But Harry did resist it--I can't tell you how--and
he started back. The barrage was worse than ever, all down the valley
road, and, apparently, when they came near the most dangerous part,
Harry's runner was hit by a big splinter and blown twenty yards. There
were no stretchers unoccupied for five miles, and it was evident that
the boy--he was only a kid--would die in a little time. He knew it
himself, but he was very frightened in that hideous valley where the
shells still fell, and he begged Harry not to leave him. And so we came
upon them as we stumbled down, thanking our stars we were through the
worst of it, Harry and the runner crouched together in a shell-hole,
with the heart of the barrage blazing and roaring sixty yards off, and
stray shells all round.

From a military or, indeed, a common-sense point of view, it was a
futile performance--the needless risk of a valuable officer's life.

They do not give decorations for that kind of thing. But I was glad he
had stayed with that young runner.

And I only tell you this to show you how wrong I was, and how much stuff
he had in him still.


II

And now Colonel Philpott comes into the story. I wish to God he had kept
out of it altogether. He was one of a class of officer with which our
division was specially afflicted--at least we believed so, if only for
the credit of the British Army; for if they were typical of the Old Army
I do not know how we came out of 1914 with as much honour as we did. But
I am happy to think they were not. We called them the Old Duds, and we
believed that for some forgotten sin of ours, or because of a certain
strong 'Temporary' spirit we had, they were dumped upon us by way of
penalty. We had peculiarly few Regular officers, and so perhaps were
inclined to be extra critical of these gentlemen. Anyhow, at one time
they came in swarms, lazy, stupid, ignorant men, with many years of
service--retired, reserve, or what not--but no discoverable distinction
either in intellect, or character, or action. And when they had told us
about Simla and all the injustices they had suffered in the matter of
promotion or pay, they ousted some young and vigorous Temporary fellow
who at least knew something of fighting, if there were stray passages in
the King's Regulations which he did not know by heart; and in about a
week their commands were discontented and slack. In about two months
they were evacuated sick (for they had no 'guts,' most of them), and
that was the finest moment of their careers--for them and for us.

Lt.-Col. (Tem'y) W. K. Philpott (Substantive Captain after God knows how
many years) out-dudded them all, though, to give him his due, he had
more staying power than most of them. He took over the battalion when
Colonel Roberts was wounded, and the contrast was painfully acute. I was
his adjutant for twelve months in all, and an adjutant knows most things
about his C.O. He was a short, stoutish fellow, with beady eyes and an
unsuccessful moustache, slightly grey, like a stubble-field at dawn. He
had all the exaggerated respect for authority and his superiors of the
old-school Regular, with none of its sincerity; for while he said things
about the Brigadier which no colonel should say before a junior officer,
he positively cringed when they met. And though he bullied defaulters,
and blustered about his independence before juniors, there was no
superior military goose to whom he would have said the most diffident
'Bo.' He was lazy beyond words, physically and mentally, but to see him
double out of the mess when a general visited the village was an
education. It made one want to vomit....

Then, of course, he believed very strongly in 'The Book,' not Holy Writ,
but all that mass of small red publications which expound the whole art
of being a soldier in a style calculated to invest with mystery the most
obvious truths. 'It says it in The Book' was his great gambit--and a
good one too. Yet he betrayed the most astonishing ignorance of The
Book. Any second lieutenant could have turned him inside out in two
minutes on Field Service Regulations, and just where you expected him to
be really efficient and knowledgeable, the conduct of trials, and
Military Law, and so on, he made the most hideous elementary howlers.

But ignorance is easily forgivable if a man will work, if a man will
learn. But he would neither. He left everything to somebody else, the
second-in-command, the adjutant, the orderly-room. He would not say what
he wanted (he very seldom knew), and when in despair you made out his
orders for him he invariably disagreed; when he disagreed he was as
obstinate as a mule, without being so clever. When he did agree it took
half an hour to explain the simplest arrangement. If you asked him to
sign some correspondence for the Brigade, he was too lazy and told you
to sign it yourself; and when you did that he apologized to the Brigade
for the irregularities of his adjutant--'a Temporary fellow, you know.'
For he had an ill-concealed contempt for all Temporaries; and that was
perhaps one reason why we disliked him so much. He would not believe
that a young officer, who had not spent twenty years drinking in
mess-rooms, could have any military value whatever. Moreover, it annoyed
him intensely (and here he had my sympathy) to see such men enjoying the
same pay or rank as he had enjoyed during the almost apocryphal period
of his captaincy. And having himself learned practically nothing during
that long lotus-time, it was inconceivable to him that any man, however
vigorous or intelligent, could have learned anything in two years of
war.

Now let me repeat that I do not believe him to be typical of the Old
Army, I know he was not (thank God); but this is a history of what
happened to Harry, and Colonel Philpott was one of the things which
happened--very forcibly. So I give him to you as we found him, and since
he may be alive I may say that his name is fictitious, though there are,
unhappily, so many of him alive that I have no fears that he will
recognize himself. He would not be the same man if he did.

We went out for a fortnight's rest after that battle, and Harry had
trouble with him almost at once. He had amused and irritated Harry from
the first--the Old Duds always did--for his respect for authority was
very civilian and youthful in character; he took a man for what he was,
and if he decided he was good stood by him loyally for ever after; if he
did not he was severe, not to say intolerant, and regrettably lacking in
that veneration for the old and incapable which is the soul of military
discipline.

Philpott's arrogance on the subject of Temporaries annoyed him
intensely; it annoyed us all, and this I think it was that made him say
a very unfortunate thing. He was up before the C.O. with some trifling
request or other (I forget what), and somehow the question of his
seniority and service came up. Incidentally, Harry remarked, quite
mildly, that he believed he was nearly due for promotion. Colonel
Philpott gave as close an imitation of a lively man as I ever saw him
achieve; he nearly had a fit. I forget all he said--he thundered for a
long time, banging his fist on the King's Regulations, and knocking
everything off the rickety table--but this was the climax:

'Promotion, by God! and how old are you, young man? and how much service
have you seen? Let me tell you this, Master Penrose, when I was your age
I hadn't begun to _think_ about promotion, and I did fifteen years as a
captain--fifteen solid years!'

'And I don't wonder,' said Harry.

It was very unfortunate.


III

When we went back to the line, Harry was detailed for many
working-parties; and some of them, particularly the first, were very
nasty. The days of comfortable walking in communication trenches were
over. We were in captured ground churned up by our own fire, and all
communication with the front was over the open, over the shell-holes.
Harry was told off to take a ration-party, carrying rations up to the
battalion in the line, a hundred men. These were bad jobs to do. It
meant three-quarters of a mile along an uphill road, heavily shelled;
then there was a mile over the shell-hole country, where there were no
landmarks or duckboards, or anything to guide you. For a single man in
daylight, with a map, navigation was difficult enough in this uniform
wilderness until you had been over it a time or two; to go over it for
the first time, in the dark, with a hundred men carrying heavy loads,
was the kind of thing that makes men transfer to the Flying Corps. Harry
got past the road with the loss of three men only; there, at any rate,
you went straight ahead, however slowly. But when he left the road, his
real troubles began. It was pitch dark and drizzling, and the way was
still uphill. With those unhappy carrying-parties, where three-fourths
of the men carried two heavy sacks of bread and tinned meat and other
food, and the rest two petrol tins of water, or a jar of rum, or rifle
oil, or whale oil, besides a rifle, and a bandolier, and two
respirators, and a great-coat--you must move with exquisite slowness, or
you will lose your whole party in a hundred yards. And even when you are
just putting one foot in front of another, moving so slowly that it
maddens you, there are halts and hitches every few yards: a man misses
his footing and slides down into a crater with his awful load; the hole
is full of foul green water, and he must be hauled out quickly lest he
drown. Half-way down the line a man halts to ease his load, or shift his
rifle, or scratch his nose; when he goes on he can see no one ahead of
him, and the cry 'Not in touch' comes sullenly up to the front. Or you
cross the path of another party, burdened as yours. In the dark, or
against the flaring skyline, they look like yours, bent, murky shapes
with bumps upon them, and some of your men trail off with the other
party. And though you pity your men more than yourself, it is difficult
sometimes to be gentle with them, difficult not to yield to the intense
exasperation of it all, and curse foolishly....

But Harry was good with his men, and they stumbled on, slipping,
muttering, with a dull ache at the shoulders and a dogged rage in their
hearts. He was trying to steer by the compass, and he was aiming for a
point given him on the map, the rendezvous for the party he was to meet.
This point was the junction of three trenches, but as all trenches
thereabouts had been so blotted out as to be almost indistinguishable
from casual shell-holes, it was not so good a rendezvous as it had
seemed to the Brigade. However, Harry managed to find it, or believed
that he had found it--for in that murk and blackness nothing was
certain; if he had found it, the other party had not, for there was no
one there. They might be late, they might be lost, they might be waiting
elsewhere. So Harry sent out a scout or two and waited, while the men
lay down in the muddy ruins of the trench and dozed unhappily. And while
they waited, the Boche, who had been flinging big shells about at random
since dusk, took it into his head to plaster these old trenches with
5-9's. Harry ran, or floundered along the line, telling the men to lie
close where they were. There was indeed nothing else to do, but it gave
the men confidence, and none of them melted away. As he ran, a big one
burst very near and knocked him flat, but he was untouched; it is
marvellous how local the effect of H.E. can be. For about ten minutes
they had a bad time, and then it ceased, suddenly.

And now was one of those crucial moments which distinguish a good
officer from a bad, or even an ordinary officer. It was easy to say,
'Here I am at the rendezvous' (by this time Harry had got his bearings a
little by the lights, and knew he was in the right spot) 'with these
something rations; the men are done and a bit shaken; so am I; the other
people haven't turned up; if they want their rations they can damned
well come here and get them; I've done my part, and I'm going home.' But
a real good officer, with a conscience and an imagination, would say:
'Yes--but I've been sent up here to get these rations to the men in the
line; my men will have a rest to-morrow, and some sleep, and some good
food; the men in the line now will still be in the line, with no sleep,
and little rest, and if these rations are left here in the mud and not
found before dawn, they'll have no food either; and whatever other
people may do or not do, it's up to me to get these rations up there
somehow, if we have to walk all night and carry them right up to the
Front Line ourselves, and I'm not going home till I've done it.' I don't
know, but I think that that's the sort of thing Harry said to himself;
and anyhow after the row with Philpott he was particularly anxious to
make good. So he got his men out and told them about it all, and they
floundered on. It was raining hard now, with a bitter wind when they
passed the crest of the hill. Harry had a vague idea of the direction of
the line so long as they were on the slope; but on the flat, when they
had dodged round a few hundred shell-holes, halting and going on and
halting again, all sense of direction departed, and very soon they were
hopelessly lost. The flares were no good, for the line curved, and there
seemed to be lights all around, going up mistily through the rain in a
wide circle. Once you were properly lost the compass was useless, for
you might be in the Boche lines, you might be anywhere.... At such
moments a kind of mad, desperate self-pity, born of misery and weariness
and rage, takes hold of the infantryman, and if he carries a load, he is
truly ready to fall down and sleep where he is--or die. And in the
wretched youth in charge there is a sense of impotence and
responsibility that makes his stomach sink within him. Some of the men
began to growl a little, but Harry held on despairingly. And then by
God's grace they ran into another party, a N.C.O. and a few men; these
were the party--or some of them--that should have met them at the
rendezvous; they too had been lost and were now wandering back to the
line. Well, Harry handed over the rations and turned home, well pleased
with himself. He was too sick of the whole affair, and it was too dark
and beastly to think of getting a receipt. It was a pity; for while he
trudged home, the N.C.O., as we afterwards heard, was making a mess of
the whole business. Whether he had not enough men, or perhaps lost them,
or miscalculated the amount of rations or what, is not clear, but half
of all that precious food was found lying in the mud at noon the next
day when it was too late, and half the battalion in the line went very
short. Then the Colonel rang up Philpott, and complained bitterly about
the conduct of the officer in charge of our ration-party. Philpott sent
for Harry and accused him hotly of dumping the rations carelessly
anywhere, of not finishing his job.

Harry gave his account of the affair quite simply, without enlarging on
the bad time he had had, though that was clear enough to a man with any
knowledge. _But he could not show a receipt._ Philpott was the kind of
man who valued receipts more than righteousness. He refused to believe
Harry's straightforward tale, cursed him for a lazy swine, and sent him
to apologize to the Colonel of the Blanks. That officer did listen to
Harry's story, believed it, and apologized to _him_. Harry was a little
soothed, but from that day I know there was a great bitterness in his
heart. For he had done a difficult job very well, and had come back
justly proud of himself and his men. And to have the work wasted by a
bungling N.C.O., and his word doubted by a Philpott....

And that I may call the beginning of the second stage.



IX


For after that Harry began to be in a bad way again. That shelling in
the night and the near concussion of the shell that knocked him over had
been one of those capital shocks of which I have spoken. From that time
on, shell-fire in the open became a special terror, a new favourite
fear; afterwards he told me so. And all that winter we had shell-fire in
the open--even the 'lines' were not trenches, only a string of scattered
shell-holes garrisoned by a few men. Everywhere, night and day, you had
that naked feeling.

Yet in France, at the worst, given proper rest and variety, with a
chance to nurse his courage and soothe his nerves, a resolute man could
struggle on a long time after he began to crack. But Harry had no rest,
no chance. The _affaire Philpott_ was having a rich harvest. For about
three weeks in the February of that awful winter the battalion was
employed solely on working-parties, all sorts of them, digging,
carrying, behind the line, in the line, soft jobs, terrible jobs. Now as
adjutant I used to take particular care that the safe jobs in the rear
should be fairly shared among the companies in a rough rotation, and
that no officers or men should have too many of the bad ones--the night
carrying-parties to the front line. But about now Colonel Philpott began
to exert himself about these parties; he actually issued orders about
the arrangements, and whether by accident or design, his orders had this
particular effect, that Harry took about three times as many of the
dangerous parties as anybody else. We were in a country of rolling down
with long trough-like valleys or ravines between. To get to the front
line you had to cross two of these valleys, and in each of them the
Boche put a terrific barrage all night, and every night. The second
one--the Valley of Death--was about as near to Inferno as I wish to see,
for it was enfiladed from both ends, and you had shell-fire from three
directions. Well, for three weeks Harry took a party through this valley
four or five nights a week.... Each party meant a double passage through
two corners of hell, with a string of weary men to keep together, and
encourage and command, with all that maddening accumulation of
difficulties I have tried already to describe ... and at the end of that
winter, after all he had done, it was too much. I protested to the
Colonel, but it was no good. 'Master Penrose can go on with these
parties,' he said, 'till he learns how to do them properly.'

After ten days of this Harry began to be afraid of himself; or, as he
put it, 'I don't know if I can stand much more of this.' All his old
distrust of himself, which lately I think he had very successfully kept
away, came creeping back. But he made no complaint; he did not ask me to
intercede with Philpott. The more he hated and feared these parties, the
worse he felt, the keener became his determination to stick it out, to
beat Philpott at his own game. Or so I imagine. For by the third week
there was no doubt; what is called his 'nerve' was clean gone; or, as he
put it to me in the soldier's tongue, 'I've got complete wind-up.' He
would have given anything--except his pride--to have escaped one of
those parties; he thought about them all day. I did manage, in sheer
defiance of Philpott, to take him off one of them; but it was only sheer
dogged will-power, and perhaps the knowledge that we were to be relieved
the following week, which carried him through to the end of it....

If we had not gone out I don't know what would have happened. But I can
guess.


II

And so Philpott finally broke his nerve. But he was still keen and
resolute to go on, in spite of the bitterness in his heart.
Philpott--and other things--had still to break his spirit. And the
'other things' were many that winter. It was a long, cold, comfortless
winter. Billets became more and more broken and windowless and lousy;
firewood vanished, and there was little coal. On the high slopes there
was a bitter wind, and men went sick in hundreds--pneumonia, fever,
frost-bite. All dug-outs were damp and chilling and greasy with mud, or
full of the acrid wood-smoke that tortured the eyes. There were night
advances in the snow, where lightly wounded men perished of exposure
before dawn. For a fortnight we lived in tents on a hill-top covered
with snow.

And one day Harry discovered he was lousy....

Then, socially, though it seems a strange thing to say, these were dull
days for Harry. Few people realize how much an infantryman's life is
lightened if he has companions of his own kind--not necessarily of the
same class, though it usually comes to that--but of the same tastes and
education and experience--men who make the same kind of jokes. In the
line it matters little, a man is a man, as the Press will tell you. But
in the evenings, out at rest, it was good and cheering to sit with the
Old Crowd and exchange old stories of Gallipoli and Oxford and London;
even to argue with Eustace about the Public Schools; to be with men who
liked the same songs, the same tunes on the gramophone, who did not
always ask for 'My Dixie Bird' or 'The Green Woman' waltz.... And now
there was none of the Old Crowd left, only Harry and myself, Harry with
a company now, and myself very busy at Headquarters. And Harry's company
were very dull men, promoted N.C.O.'s mostly, good fellows all--very
good in the line--but they were not the Old Crowd. Now, instead of those
great evenings we used to have, with the white wine, and the music, and
old George dancing, evenings that have come down in the history of the
battalion as our battles have done, evenings that kept the spirit strong
in the blackest times--there were morose men with wooden faces sitting
silently over some whisky and Battalion Orders....

And Hewett was dead, the laughing, lovable Hewett. That was the black
heart of it. When a man becomes part of the great machine, he is
generally supposed--I know not why--to surrender with his body his soul
and his affections and all his human tendernesses. But it is not so.

We never talked of Hewett very much. Only there was for ever a great
gap. And sometimes, when we tried to be cheerful in the evenings, as in
the old times, and were not, we said to each other--Harry and I--'I wish
to God that he was here.' Yet for long periods I forgot Hewett. Harry
never forgot him.

Then there was something about which I may be wrong, for Harry never
mentioned it, and I am only guessing from my own opinion. In two years
of war he had won no kind of medal or distinction--except a 'mention' in
despatches, which is about as satisfying as a caraway-seed to a starving
man. In Gallipoli he had done things which in France in modern times
would have earned an easy decoration. But they were scarce in those
days; and in France he had done much dogged and difficult work, and a
few very courageous, but in a military sense perfectly useless things,
nothing dramatic, nothing to catch the eye of the Brigade. I don't know
whether he minded much, but I felt it myself very keenly; for I knew
that he had started with ambitions; and here were fellows with not half
his service, or courage, or capacity, just ordinary men with luck,
ablaze with ribbon.... Any one who says he cares nothing about medals is
a hypocrite, though most of us care very little. But if you believe you
have done well, and not only is there nothing to show for it, but
nothing to show that other people believe it ... you can't help caring.

And then, on top of it, when you have a genuine sense of bitter
injustice, when you know that your own most modest estimate of yourself
is exalted compared with the estimate of the man who commands you--you
begin to have black moods....


III

Harry had black moods. All these torments accumulated and broke his
spirit. He lost his keenness, his cheerfulness, and his health. Once a
man starts on that path, his past history finds him out, like an old
wound. Some men take to drink and are disgraced. In Harry's case it was
Gallipoli. No man who had a bad time in that place ever 'got over' it in
body or soul. And when France or some other campaign began to work upon
them, it was seen that there was something missing in their resisting
power; they broke out with old diseases and old fears ... the legacies
of Gallipoli.

Harry grew pale, and nervous, and hunted to look at; and he had a touch
of dysentery. But the worst of the poison was in his mind and heart. For
a long time, as I have said, since he felt the beginning of those old
doubts, and saw himself starting downhill, he had striven anxiously to
keep his name high in men's opinion; for all liked him and believed in
him. He had been ready for anything, and done his work with a
conscientious pride. But now this bitterness was on him, he seemed to
have ceased to care what happened or what men thought of him. He had
unreasonable fits of temper; he became distrustful and cynical. I
thought then, sometimes, of the day when he had looked at Troy and
wanted to be like Achilles. It was painful to me to hear him talking as
Eustace used to talk, suspicious, intolerant, incredulous.... I thought
how Harry had once hated that kind of talk, and it was most significant
of the change that had come over the good companion I had known. Yet
sometimes, when the sun shone, and once when we rode back into Albert
and dined quietly alone, that mask of bitterness fell away; there were
flashes of the old cheerful Harry, and I had hopes. I hoped Philpott
would be killed....


IV

But he survived, for he was very careful. And though, as I have said, he
stuck it for a long time, he was by no means the gallant fire-eater you
would have imagined from his treatment of defaulters. Once round the
line just before dawn was enough for him in that sort of country.
'Things are quiet then, and you can see what's going on.' He liked it
best when 'things were quiet.' So did all of us, and I don't blame him
for that.

But that winter there was a thick crop of S.I.W.'s. S.I.W. is the short
title for a man who has been evacuated with self-inflicted wounds--shot
himself in the foot, or held a finger over the muzzle of his rifle, or
dropped a great boulder on his foot--done himself any reckless injury to
escape from the misery of it all. It was always a marvel to me that any
man who could find courage to do such things could not find courage to
go on; I suppose they felt it would bring them the certainty of a little
respite, and beyond that they did not care, for it was the uncertainty
of their life that had broken them. You could not help being sorry for
these men, even though you despised them. It made you sick to think that
any man who had come voluntarily to fight for his country could be
brought so low, that humanity could be so degraded exactly where it was
being so ennobled.

But Philpott had no such qualms. He was ruthless, and necessarily so;
but, beyond that, he was brutal, he bullied. When they came before him,
healed of their wounds, haggard, miserable wisps of men, he kept them
standing there while he told them at length exactly how low they had
sunk (they knew that well enough, poor devils), and flung at them a rich
vocabulary of abuse--words of cowardice and dishonour, which were
strictly accurate but highly unnecessary. For these men were going back
to duty now; they had done their punishment--though the worst of it was
still to come; all they needed was a few quiet words of encouragement
from a strong man to a weaker, a little human sympathy, and that appeal
to a man's honour which so seldom fails if it is rightly made.

Well, this did not surprise me in Philpott; he had no surprises for me
by now. What did surprise me was Harry's intolerant, even cruel,
comments on the cases of the S.I.W.'s. He had always had a real sympathy
with the men, he knew the strange workings of their minds, and all the
wretchedness of their lives; he understood them. And yet here he was, as
scornful, as Prussian, on the subject of S.I.W.'s as even Philpott. It
was long before I understood this--I don't know that I ever did. But I
thought it was this: that in these wrecks of men he recognized something
of his own sufferings; and recognizing the disease he was the more
appalled by the remedy they took. The kind of thing that had led them to
it was the kind of thing he had been through, was going through. There
the connection ceased. There was no such way out for him. But though it
ceased, the connection was so close that it was degrading. And this
scorn and anger was a kind of instinctive self-defence--put on to assure
himself, to assure the world, that there was no connection--none at
all.... But I don't know.


V

At the end of February I was wounded and went home. Without any conceit,
without exaggerating our friendship, I may say that this was the final
blow for Harry. I was the last of the Old Crowd; I was the one man who
knew the truth of things as between him and Philpott.... And I went.

I was hit by a big shell at Whizz-Bang Corner, and Harry saw me on the
stretcher as we came past D Company on the Bapaume Road. He walked with
me as far as the cookers, and was fall of concern for my wound, which
was pretty painful just then. But he bucked me up and talked gaily of
the good things I was going to. And he said nothing of himself. But when
he left me there was a look about him--what is the word?--_wistful_--it
is the only one, like a dog left behind.

       *       *       *       *       *

While I was still in hospital I had two letters from the battalion. The
first was from Harry, a long wail about Philpott and the dullness of
everybody now that the Old Crowd were extinct, though he seemed to have
made good friends of some of the dull ones. At the end of that endless
winter, when it seemed as if the spring would never come, they had
pulled out of the line and 'trekked' up north, so that there had been
little fighting. They were now in shell-holes across the high ridge in
front of Arras, preparing for an advance.

The other letter was from old Knight, the Quartermaster, dated two
months after I left.

I will give you an extract:

     _'Probably by now you will have seen or heard from young
     Penrose. He was hit on the 16th, a nasty wound in the chest
     from a splinter.... It was rather funny--not funny, but you
     know what I mean--how he got it. I was there myself though I
     didn't see it. I had been up to H.Q. to see about the rations,
     and there were a lot of us, Johnson (he is now Adj. in your
     place) and Fellowes, and so on, standing outside H.Q. (which is
     on a hill--what you people call a forward slope, I believe),
     and watching our guns bombarding the village. It was a
     remarkable sight, etc. etc._ (a long digression).... _Then the
     Boche started shelling our hill; he dropped them in pairs,
     first of all at the other end of the hill, about 500 yards off,
     and then nearer and nearer, about 20 yards at a time ... the
     line they were on was pretty near to us, so we thought the
     dug-out would be a good place to go to.... Penrose was just
     starting to go back to his company when this began, and as we
     went down somebody told him he'd better wait a bit. But he said
     "No, he wanted to get back." I was the last down, and as I
     disappeared (pretty hurriedly) I told him not to be a fool. But
     all he said was, "This is nothing, old bird--you wait till you
     live up here; I'm going on." The next thing we heard was the
     hell of an explosion on top. We ran up afterwards, and there he
     was, about thirty yards off.... The funny thing is that I
     understood he rather had the wind-up just now, and was anything
     but reckless ... in fact, some one said he had the Dug-out
     Disease.... Otherwise, you'd have said he wanted to be killed.
     I don't know why he wasn't, asking for it like that.... Well,
     thank God I'm a Q.M., etc. etc.'_

I read it all very carefully, and wondered. '_You'd have said he wanted
to be killed._' I wondered about that very much.

And there was a postscript which interested me:

     '_By the way, I hear Burnett's got the M.C.--for Salvage, I
     believe!_'



X


I was six months in that hospital, and I did not see Harry for seven.
For I was at Blackpool, and he at Lady Radmore's in Kensington. His was
a quicker business than mine; and when I had finished with the hospitals
and the homes and came to London for a three weeks' laze, he was back at
the Depot. Then he got seven days' leave for some mysterious reason (I
think there was a draft leaving shortly, and everybody had some leave),
and I dined twice with him at home. They had a little house in Chelsea,
very tastefully furnished by Mrs. Penrose, whom I now saw for the first
time. But I saw more of her that evening than I did of Harry, who was
hopelessly entangled with two or three 'in-laws.' She was a dark, gentle
little person, with brown, and rather sorrowful, eyes. When I first saw
her I thought, 'She was never meant to be a soldier's wife,' but after
we had talked a little, I added, 'But she is a good one.' She was
clearly very much in love with Harry, and delighted to meet some one who
had been with him in France, and was fond of him--for, like all wives,
she soon discovered that. But all the time I felt that there were
questions she wanted to ask me, and could not. I will not pretend to
tell you how she was dressed, because I don't know; I seldom notice, and
then I never remember. But she appealed to me very much, and I made up
my mind to look after _her_ interests if I ever had the chance, if there
was ever a question between Harry and a single man. I had no chance of a
talk with Harry, and noticed only that he seemed pretty fit again but
sleepless-looking.

The second night I went there was the last night of Harry's leave. If I
had known that when I was asked I think I should not have gone; for
while it showed I was a privileged person, it is a painful privilege to
break in on the 'last evening' of husband and wife; I know those last
evenings. And though Harry was only going back to the Depot in the
morning, it was known there had been heavy losses in the regiment; there
was talk of a draft ... it might well be the last evening of all.

I got there early, at Harry's request, about half-past five, on a
miserable gusty evening in early November. Harry was sitting in a kind
of study, library, or den, writing; he looked less well, and very
sleepless about the eyes.

It was the anniversary of one of the great battles of the regiment; and
we talked a little of that day, as soldiers will, with a sort of gloomy
satisfaction. Then Harry said, slowly:

'I've been offered a job at the War Office--by Major
Mackenzie--Intelligence.'

'Oh,' I said, 'that's very good.' (But I was thinking more of Mrs. Harry
than Harry.)

Harry went on, as if he had not heard. 'I was writing to him when you
came in. And I don't know what to say.'

'Why not?'

'Well,' he said, '_you_ know as well as any one what sort of time I've
had, and how I've been treated--by Philpott and others. And I've had
about enough of it. I remember telling you once on the Peninsula that I
thought myself fairly brave when I first went out ... and, my God, so I
was compared with what I am now.... I suppose every one has his
breaking-point, and I've certainly had mine.... I simply feel I can't
face it again.'

'Very well,' I said, 'take the job and have done with it. You've done as
much as you can, and you can't do more. What's the trouble?'

But he went on, seemingly to convince himself rather than me. 'I've
never got over those awful working-parties in that----valley; I had two
or three 5-9's burst right on top of me, you know ... the Lord knows how
I escaped ... and now I simply dream of them. I dream of them every
night ... usually it's an enormous endless plain, full of shell-holes,
of course, and raining like hell, and I walk for miles (usually with
you) looking over my shoulder, waiting for the shells to come ... and
then I hear that savage kind of high-velocity shriek, and I run like
hell ... only I can't run, of course, that's the worst part ... and I
get into a ditch and lie there ... and then one comes that I know by the
sound is going to burst on top of me ... and I wake up simply sweating
with funk. I've never told anybody but you about this, not even Peggy,
but she says I wake her up sometimes, making an awful noise.'

He was silent for a little, and I had nothing to say.

'And then it's all so different now, so damnably ... dull.... I wouldn't
mind if we could all go out together again ... just the Old Crowd ... so
that we could have good evenings, and not care what happened. But now
there's nobody left (I don't expect they'll let _you_ go out again),
only poor old Egerton--he's back again ... and I can't stand all those
boot-faced N.C.O. officers and people like Philpott, and all the Old
Duds.... You can't get away from it--the boot-faces _aren't_ officers,
and nothing will make them so ... even the men can't stand them. And
they get on my nerves....

'It all gets on my nerves, the mud, and the cold, and the futile
Brigadiers, and all the damned eyewash we have nowadays ... never having
a decent wash, and being cramped up in a dug-out the size of a
chest-of-drawers with four boot-faces ... where you can't move without
upsetting the candle and the food, or banging your head ... and getting
lousy. And all those endless ridiculous details you have to look after
day after day ... working-parties ... haversack rations ... has every
man got his box-respirator?... why haven't you cleaned your rifle?...
as if I cared a damn!... No, I won't say that ... but there you are, you
see, it's on my nerves.... But sometimes' (and though I sympathized I
was glad there was a 'but') 'when I think of some of the bogus people
who've been out, perhaps once, and come home after three months with a
nice blighty in the shoulder, and got a job, and stayed in it ever
since ... I feel I can't do that either, and run the risk of being taken
for one of them....'

'I don't think there's any danger of that,' I remarked.

'I don't know--one "officeer" is the same as another to most people....
And then, you know, although you hate it, it does get hold of you
somehow--out there ... and after a bit, when you've got used to being at
home you get restless.... I know I did last time, and sometimes I do
now.... I don't say I hunger for the battle, I never want to be in a
"stunt" again ... but you feel kind of "out of it" when you read the
papers, or meet somebody on leave ... you think of the amusing evenings
we used to have.... And I rather enjoyed "trekking" about in the back
areas ... especially when I had a horse ... wandering along on a good
frosty day, and never sure what village you were going to sleep in ...
marching through Doullens with the band ... estaminets, and talking
French, and all the rest of it....

'And then I think of a 5-9--and I know I'm done for.... I've got too
much imagination, that's the trouble (I hope you're not fed up with all
this, but I want your advice).... It's funny, one never used to think
about getting killed, even in the war ... it seemed impossible somehow
that _you yourself_ could be killed (did you ever have that
feeling?) ... though one was ready enough in those days ... but now--even
in the train the other day, going down to Bristol by the express, I found
I was imagining what would happen if there was a smash ... things one
reads of, you know ... carriages catching fire, and so on ... just
"wind-up." And the question is--is it any _good_ going out, if you've got
into that state?... And if one says "No," is one just making it an
excuse?... It's no good telling a military doctor all this ... they'd
just say, "Haw, skrim-shanker! what you want is some fresh air and
exercise, my son!..." And for all I know they may be right.... As a
matter of fact, I don't think I'm physically fit, really ... my own
doctor says not ... but you're never examined properly before you go out,
as you know.... You all troop in by the dozen at the last moment ... and
the fellow says, "Feeling quite fit?..." And if you've just had a good
breakfast and feel buckish, you say, "Yes, thank you," and there you
are.... Unless you _ask_ them to examine you you might have galloping
consumption for all they know, and I'm damned if I'd ask them.... After
all, I suppose the system's right.... If a man can stick it for a month
or two in the line, he's worth sending there if he's an officer ... and
it doesn't matter to the country if he dies of consumption afterwards....
But my trouble is--_can_ I stick it for a month or two ... or shall I
go and do some awful thing, and let a lot of fellows down?... Putting
aside my own inclinations, which are probably pretty selfish, what is it
my duty to do?... After friend Philpott I don't know that I'm so keen on
duty as I was ... but I do want to stick this ---- war out on the right
line, if I can.... What do _you_ think?'

'Before I answer that,' I said, 'there's one consideration you seem to
have overlooked--and that is Mrs. Penrose.... After all, you're a
married man, and that makes a difference, doesn't it?'

'Well, does it? I don't really see why it _should_ make any difference
about going out, or not going out ... otherwise every shirker could run
off and marry a wife, and live happily ever after.... But it certainly
makes it a damned sight harder to decide ... and it makes the hell of a
difference when you're out there.... You can make up your mind not to
think of it when you're at home ... like this ... but out there, when
you're cold and fed up, and just starting up the line with a
working-party ... you can't help thinking of it, and it makes things
about ten times more difficult ... and as you know, it's jolly hard not
to let it make a difference to what you do.... But, damn it, why did you
remind me of that? I didn't want to think about it.'

And then Mrs. Penrose came in, and we went down to dinner.


II

I did not enjoy that dinner. To begin with, I felt like a vulgar
intruder on something that was almost sacred, and certainly very
precious. For all the signs of the 'last evening' were there. The dishes
we had were Harry's favourites, procured at I know what trouble and
expense by Mrs. Harry; and she watched tremulously to see that he liked
them. She had gone out and bought him a bottle of well-loved Moselle,
for a special surprise, and some port; which was a huge extravagance.
But that was nothing, if these things could only give a special
something to this meal which would make him remember it; for the flowers
he never saw, and the new dress went unnoticed for a long time. But I
felt that it would all have gone much better, perhaps, if I had not been
there, and I hoped she did not hate me.

And Harry was not at his best. The question he asked me I had had no
time to answer, and he had not answered it himself. Through most of that
dinner, which by all the rules should have been, superficially at least,
cheerful and careless, as if there were no such thing as separation
ahead, Harry was thoughtful and preoccupied. And I knew that he was
still arguing with himself, 'What shall I say to Mackenzie? Yes or
No?'--wandering up and down among the old doubts and resolutions and
fears.... Mrs. Harry saw this as well as I ... and, no doubt, she cursed
me for being there because in my presence she could not ask him what
worried him.

But the Moselle began to do its work: Harry talked a little and noticed
the new dress, and we all laughed a lot at the pudding, which came up in
such a curious shape.... We were very glad to laugh at something.

Then Mrs. Harry spoke of some people in the regiment of whom she had
heard a good deal--George Dawson, and Egerton, and old Colonel Roberts.
I knew that in a minute we should stumble into talking about the
trenches or shells, or some such folly, and have Harry gloomy and
brooding again. I could not stand that, and I did not think Mrs. Harry
could, so I plunged recklessly into the smoother waters of life in
France. I told them the old story about General Jackson and the
billet-guard; and then we came on to the famous night at Forceville, and
other historic battalion orgies--the dinner at Monchy Breton, when we
put a row of candles on the floor of the tent for footlights, and George
and a few subs made a perfect beauty chorus. Those are the things one
likes to remember about active service, and I was very glad to remember
them then. The special port came in and was a great success; Harry
warmed up, and laughed over those old gaieties, and was in great form.
At that moment I think his answer to Major Mackenzie would have been
definitely 'No.'

Mrs. Harry laughed very much too, and said she envied us the amusing
times we had together 'out there.' 'You men have all the fun.' And that
made me feel a heartless ass for having started on that topic. For I
knew that when Harry was away there was little 'fun' for her; and
whether he was lying on his stomach in a shell-hole, or singing songs in
an estaminet, not thinking much of his wife, perhaps, except when they
drank 'Sweethearts and Wives'--it was all one uniform, hideous wait for
her. So I think it was hollow laughter for Mrs. P....

Moreover, though I did not know how much she knew about Harry's
difficulties, the 'job' and so one, I felt sure that with the
extraordinary instinct of a wife she scented something of the conflict
that was going on; and she knew vaguely that this exaggerated laudation
of the amenities of France meant somehow danger to her.... So that just
as I was beginning to congratulate myself on the bucking up of Harry, I
tardily perceived that between us we were wounding the wife. And I more
than ever wished myself anywhere than sitting at that pretty table with
the shaded lights.

Well, we nearly finished the port--Harry still in excellent form--and
went upstairs. Harry went off to look for smokes or something, and I
knew at once that Mrs. Harry was going to ask me questions about him.
You know how a woman stands in front of the fire, and looks down, and
kind of paws the fender with one foot when she is going to say something
confidential. Then she looks up suddenly, and you're done. Mrs. Harry
did that, and I was done. At any other time I should have loved to talk
to her about Harry, but that night I felt it was dangerous ground.

'How do you think Harry is looking?' she said. 'You probably know better
than I do, nowadays.'

I said I thought he seemed pretty fit, considering all things.

'Do you think he'll have to go out again?' she asked. 'I don't think he
ought to--but they seem so short of men still. He's not really strong,
you know.'

So she knew nothing about the 'job'; and this put me in a hole. For if I
told her about it, and he did not take it, but went out again, the
knowledge would be a standing torture to her. On the other hand, I
_wanted_ him to take it, I thought he ought to--and if she knew about it
she might be able to make him. Wives can do a great deal in that way.
But that would be disloyal to Harry....

Well, I temporized with vague answers while I wrestled with this
problem, and she told me more about Harry. 'You know, he has the most
_terrible_ dreams ... wakes up screaming at night, and quite frightens
me. And I don't think they ought to be _allowed_ to go out again when
they're like that.... I don't _want_ him to go out again.... At least,'
she added half-heartedly (as a kind of concession to convention), 'if
it's his duty, of course....' Then, defiantly, 'No, I _don't_ want him
to go ... anyhow ... I think he's done his bit ... hasn't he, Mr.
Benson?'

'He has, indeed,' I said, with sincerity at last.

'Well, you have some influence with him. Can't you----'

But then Harry came in, and I had lost my chance. I have noticed that
while on the stage, conversations which must necessarily be private are
invariably concluded without interruption, in private life, and
especially private houses, are always interrupted long before the end.

Mrs. Harry went to the piano, and Harry and I sat down to smoke; and
since it was the last night Harry was allowed to smoke his pipe. The way
Mrs. Harry said that nearly made me weep.

So I sat there and watched Harry, and his wife played and played--soft,
melancholy, homesick things (Chopin, I think), that leagued with the
wine and the warm fire and the deep chairs in an exquisite conspiracy of
repose. She played for a long time, but I saw that she too was watching.
And the fancy came to me that she was fighting for Harry, fighting,
perhaps unconsciously, that vague danger she had seen at dinner, when it
had beaten her ... fighting it with this music that made war seem so
distant and home so lovable....

And soon I began to see that she was winning. For when she began playing
Harry had sat down, a little restless again, and fidgeted, as if the
music reminded him of good things too much ... and his eyes wandered
round the room and took in all the familiar things, like a man saying
good-bye--the old chair with the new chintz, and the yellow curtains,
and the bookcase his father left him--and the little bookcase where his
history books were (he looked a long time at them) ... and the firelight
shining on the piano ... and his wife playing and playing.... And when
he had looked at her, quickly, he sat up and poked the fire fiercely,
and sat back, frowning. He was wondering again. This music was being too
much for him. Then she stopped, and looked across at Harry--and smiled.

When she played again it was, I think, a nocturne of Chopin's (God knows
which--but it was very peaceful and homesick), and as I watched, I made
sure that she had won. For there came over Harry a wonderful repose. He
no longer frowned or fidgeted, or raised his eyebrows in the nervous way
he had, but lay back in a kind of abandonment of content.... And I said
to myself, 'He has decided--he will say "Yes" to Mackenzie.'

Mrs. Harry, perhaps, also perceived it. For after a little she stopped
and came over to us. And then I did a fateful thing. There was a copy of
_The Times_ lying by my chair, and because of the silence that was on
us, I picked it up and looked aimlessly at it.

The first thing I saw was the Casualty List, buried in small type among
some vast advertisements of patent foods. I glanced down the list in
that casual manner which came to us when we knew that all our best
friends were already dead or disposed of. Then my eye caught the name of
the regiment and the name of a man I knew. CAPTAIN EGERTON, V.R. Killed.
There was another near it, and another, and many more; the list was
thick with them. And the other battalions in the Brigade had many names
there--fellows one had relieved in the line, or seen in billets, or
talked with in the Cocktail Café at Noeux-les-Mines. There must have
been a massacre in the Brigade ... ten officers killed and ten wounded
in our lot alone.

I suppose I made that vague murmur of rage and regret which slips out of
you when you read these things, for Harry looked up and asked, 'What's
that?' I gave him the paper, and he too looked down that list.... Only
two of those names were names of the Old Crowd, and many of them were
the dull men; but we knew them very well for all that, and we knew they
were good men ... Egerton, Gordon, young Matthews, Spenser, Smith, the
bombing fellow, Tompkinson--all gone....

So we were silent for a long minute, remembering those men, and Mrs.
Harry stared into the fire. I wondered what she was thinking of, and I
was sorry for her. For when Harry got up there was a look about him
which I had seen before, though not for many months--not since the first
days on the Somme....

While I was groping after my coat in the hall, Harry came out of his den
with a letter which he asked me to 'drop in the box.' I looked at it
without shame; it was addressed to Major Mackenzie, D.S.O., etc.

'And what have you said?' I asked.

'No,' said Harry, with a kind of challenging look.

'Well, I think you're wrong----' I told him, though I knew then that I
was too late. Mrs. Harry was beaten now, finally beaten, poor thing....

'And what are you two talking about?' said Mrs. Harry.

'About a dinner, my dear.'

I went out and posted that accursed letter, thanking God that I was not
a wife.



XI


Harry went to France again a month later, after the futile kind of
medical examination he had foretold. I had a letter from him from the
Base, and after that there was silence. I even began to hunt about in
the casualty lists, but he was never there. And seven weeks later they
let me go out again myself, to the astonishment of all but the military
doctors.

At the Base I heard of Harry. Some one had been wanted for some kind of
job down there, an officer to instruct the Details in the mysteries of
Iron Rations, or something of the sort. Harry, happening to be there at
the time, and pleasing the eye of the aldermanic officer in command of
our Base Depot, had been graciously appointed to the post. But he had
caused a considerable flutter in the tents of the mighty by flatly
declining it, and stating insanely that he preferred to go up to the
line. This being still the one topic of conversation in the camp, I did
not linger there longer than was absolutely necessary. Infantry Base
Depots are bad places, and that one was very bad; you had worse food,
worse treatment, and worse company than you ever had in the line--much
discomfort, and no dignity. I never understood why officers should be
treated with such contempt whenever there were a number of them
together. If you went about by yourself, or with another officer or two,
you had a certain amount of politeness and consideration from military
officials; but as soon as you got with a 'herd' of officers you were
doomed--you were dirt. If the intention at the Base was to make the line
seem a haven of refuge and civility, it was highly successful as far as
I was concerned....

I got back to the battalion under the usual conditions ... a long jog in
the mess-cart under the interminable dripping poplars, with a vile wind
lashing the usual rain over the usual flat fields, where the old women
laboured and stooped as usual, and took no notice of anything. The heart
sinks a little as you look at the shivering dreariness of it all. And if
it is near the line you hope secretly that the battalion is 'out' for at
least a few days more, that you may have just two days to get used to
this beastliness again, and not be met by some cheery acclimatized ass
with a 'Glad to see you, old son--just in time--going up to-night, doing
a "stunt" on Tuesday!' Yet, as you come to the village, there is a
strange sense of home-coming that comes with the recognition of familiar
things--limbers clattering and splashing along, and the regimental
postman trudging back with the mail, and C Company cooker steaming
pleasantly under an outhouse, and odd men with waterproof sheets draped
over the shoulders, wet and glistening.... To-day I was lucky, for the
battalion was a long way back, resting, so that this home-coming sense
was strong upon me. And I wanted to see Harry.

When I came near to the usual main street I saw the battalion marching
in by a side road, coming back from a route march. I sent my gear ahead,
and got down to see them pass. It was strangely pleasant. The drums of
the little band were covered because of the wet, and only the bugles
brayed harshly, but very cheerfully. Old Philpott was ahead of them,
riding fatly on his mild black mare, and returned my salute quite
pleasantly. You could see a lot of young recruits among the men, and
there were many officers I had never seen, but the welcoming grins of
the old men we had had from the beginning, mostly N.C.O.'s now, made up
for that. Young Smith I saw, in command of C Company now, and Tarrant,
our late Transport Officer, was squelching at the head of a platoon,
obviously not liking it much. Then came D Company, and I looked eagerly
for Harry. Stephenson I knew, in command (how young the company
commanders were!), but there were only two other officers, and they both
strange. The last of them tramped past, and I was left silent in the
rain, foolishly disturbed.... Where was Harry? Ass--no doubt he is
orderly officer, or away on a course. But I _was_ disturbed; and the
thought came to me that if anything had happened to him I, too, should
be lonely here, with none of the Old Crowd left.

I walked on then, and came to the little flag of D Company headquarters
flapping damply outside an estaminet. In the mess they greeted me very
kindly and gave me tea--but there was still no Harry. But they all
talked very fast, and the tea was good.

'And where's Penrose?' I asked at last. 'I haven't seen him yet?'

I had spoken to Stephenson. He did not answer immediately; but he picked
up his cup and drank, assiduously; then he kind of mumbled, very low and
apologetic:

'He's in his billet--under close arrest.'

'Under arrest! My God, what for?'

Stephenson began to drink again; he was a good fellow, who knew that
Harry and I were friends; also he had known Harry in the Souchez days,
and he did not like having to tell me this.

But one of his young subalterns, a young pup just out, was less
sensitive, and told me, brutally:

'Running away--cowardice in the face of--_et cetera_--have some more
tea?'


II

Bit by bit I heard the whole miserable story--or rather that naked
kernel of it which passed publicly for the whole story. I had to make my
own footnotes, my own queries.

The first night Harry was with the battalion Philpott had sent him up
with a carrying-party to the Front Line, or thereabouts, fifty men and
some engineering stuff of sorts, wiring trestles, barbed wire, or
something. It was shell-hole country, no communication trenches or
anything, and since there had been an attack recently, the Boche
artillery was very active on the roads and back areas. Also there was
the usual rotten valley to cross, with the hell of a barrage in it. So
much these young braves conceded. Harry had started off with his party,
had called at the Brigade Dump, and picked up the stuff. Later on some
one rang up Brigade from the line and said no party had arrived. Brigade
rang up Philpott, and he sent up the Assistant Adjutant to investigate.
Somewhere in the Arras Road he had come upon Harry, with most of the
party, _running down the road--towards the Dump--away from the line_.
The stores were urgently needed at the front; they never got there. That
was all. The court-martial was to-morrow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, it was a black story, but I made one or two footnotes at once.

_The very first night he was back._ The awful luck--the cruelty of it!
Just back, in the condition of nerves I knew him to be in, with that
first miserable feeling upon him, wondering probably why the hell he had
driven himself out there, and praying to be let down easy for one night
at least--and then to be sent straight up on a job like that, the job
that had broken him before.

And by Philpott! I seemed to see Philpott arranging that, with a kind of
savage glee: 'Oh, here's Master Penrose again--well, he'd better take
that party to-night--instead of Mr. Gibson....'

And who was the Assistant Adjutant? God knows, if every working-party
that went wrong meant a court-martial, there would be no officers left
in the army; and if some busy-body had been at work....

'Who's the Assistant Adjutant?' I asked.

'Fellow who was attached to Division--used to be in this battalion in
your time, I believe--what's-his-name?--Burnett--Burnett--he rang up the
Colonel and told him about it.'

_Burnett!_ I groaned. The gods were against Harry indeed. Burnett had
been away from the battalion for eighteen months, drifting about from
odd job to odd job--Town Major here, Dump Officer there, never in the
line.... Why the devil had he come back now to put his foot in it--and,
perhaps----But I could not believe that.

Stephenson's two young officers--Wallace and Brown--made no footnote,
naturally. They had come out by the same draft as Harry, one from
Sandhurst, the other from a cadet school; they were fresh, as Harry had
been, and they had no mercy. And while I resented their tone, I tried to
remember that they knew not Harry, and said nothing.

But when young Wallace summed up the subject with 'Well, all I can say
is he's a cold-footed swine, and deserves all he gets,' I exploded. 'You
---- young pup,' I said, 'just out, and hardly seen a shot fired--you
dare to say anything about Penrose. I tell you you're not fit to lick
his boots. Do you know that he joined up in the ranks in August '14, and
went through Gallipoli, and had done two years' active service before
you even had a uniform? Do you know he's just refused a job at home in
order to come out here, and another job at the Base? Does that look like
cold feet? You wait till you've been out a year, my son, before you talk
about cold feet. You----' But I couldn't control myself any further. I
went out, cursing.


III

Then I got leave to go and see Harry. He was in his billet, in a small
bedroom on the ground floor. There was a sentry standing at the window,
fixed bayonet and all, so that he should neither escape nor make away
with himself.

He was surprised and, I think, really pleased to see me, for before me,
as he said, or any one who knew his history, he was not ashamed.... It
was only when the ignorant, the Wallaces, were near that he was filled
with humiliation, because of the things he knew they were thinking.
'That sentry out there,' he told me, 'was in my platoon at
Gallipoli--one of my old men; just before you came in he tapped on the
window and wished me luck; he said that all the "old lads" did the
same.... It bucked me up no end.'

Not that he needed much 'bucking up.' For he was strangely quiet and
resigned--more nearly at peace with everything than I had seen him for
many months. 'Only,' he said, 'I wish to God that I was a single man,
and I wish to God they would get on with it....' He had been under
arrest for six weeks, six solid weeks ... carted about from place to
place like some animal waiting for slaughter; while the Summaries of
Evidence and the Memos and the Secret Envelopes went backwards and
forwards through 'Units' and through 'Formations,' from mandarin to
mandarin, from big-wig to big-wig; while generals, and legal advisers,
and judge advocates, and twopenny-halfpenny clerks wrote their miserable
initials on the dirty forms, and wondered what the devil they should
decide--and decided--nothing at all. All this terrible time Harry had
been writing to his wife, pretending that all was well with him,
describing route marches and scenery, and all the usual stuff about
weather and clothes and food.... Now at least somebody _had_ decided,
and Harry was almost happy. For it was an end of suspense.... 'Once they
settled on a court-martial,' he said, 'I knew I was done ... and except
for Peggy, I don't care.... I don't know what they've told you, but I'd
like you to know what really happened. I found the battalion at Monval
(the same old part), and got there feeling pretty rotten. Old Philpott,
of course, sent me off with a working-party like a shot out of a
gun--before I'd been there an hour. I picked up some wiring stuff at the
Brigade Dump--it was a long way up the road then, not far from Hellfire
Corner. Fritz was shelling the road like hell, going up and down,
dropping them in pairs, fifty yards further every time, _you_ know the
game.... I had the wind-up pretty badly, and so had the men, poor
devils ... but what was worse, they seemed to know that I had.... We had
a lot of shells very close to us, and some of the men kept rushing
towards the bank when they heard one coming.... Well, you don't get on
very fast at that rate, and it's damned hard to keep hold of them when
they're like that.... And knowing they were like that made me even worse.
When we got to Dead Mule Tree about ten of them were missing ... just
stayed under the bank in the holes.... I don't say this to excuse
myself ... I just tell you what happened. Then we got to that high bit
where the bank stops and the valley goes up on the left.... You know the
awful _exposed_ feeling one has there, and they had a regular barrage
just at the corner.... I got the men under the bank, and waited till a
shell burst ... and then tried to dash them past before the next. But the
next one came too fast, and fell plunk into the middle of the
column--behind me.... Three men were killed outright, and those of us who
hadn't flung themselves down were knocked over. I fell in a kind of
narrow ditch by the road. When I put my head up and looked back I saw
some of the men vanishing back under the bank. Then another one
came--8-inch I should think they were--and I grovelled in the ditch
again.... It was just like my awful dreams.... I must have been there
about ten minutes. After every one I started to get up and go back to the
men under the bank, meaning to get them together again. Every time the
next one came too quick, and I was pinned, simply pinned in that ditch.
Then Fritz stopped for a minute or two--altering the programme, I
suppose--and I got up and ran like hell for the bank. The four or five
men lying near me got up and ran too.

'When we got under the bank we lay down and I looked round ... there was
not a man to be seen. I shouted, but at first nothing happened. And, I
tell you, I was glad.... Some of the men who had gone back, not seeing
me anywhere, had melted away home.... I don't blame _them_.... Then a
few drifted along from further down the bank.... By degrees most of the
party turned up ... there must have been between thirty and forty of
them in the end....

'And then, you see, I knew I should have to go on again ... get past the
corner somehow.... And----

'And I couldn't.... I simply couldn't face it.... Peters (the N.C.O.)
said something about "Going to have another shot, sir?" He was pretty
shaken himself--they all were ... but he'd have gone.... We _ought_ to
have gone on.... I know that.... But.... Anyhow, I told him I didn't
think we should ever get by at present, and said we'd better go back a
bit and wait under cover ... some yarn or other.... So we started back
down the road.... The Boche was still doing the up and down game on the
road, only about twice as much.... By this time I can tell you there was
no shame between those men and me ... we understood each other ... every
time we heard that damned shriek we fell into shell-holes and prayed....
They were following us down the road, getting nearer and nearer.... You
know that dug-out in the bank where Headquarters used to be. Well, just
when it looked as if the next lot must come right on top of us, I saw a
light coming from the dug-out, and most of us ran hell for leather for
the door. Some one was standing at the entrance as we dashed in ... just
in time ... we nearly knocked him over.... And guess who it was,' said
Harry, with a horrible kind of hysterical laugh, 'guess who it was ...
it was Burnett--Burnett of all people.... He had been sent up to find
out what had happened. Well, he asked what the hell I was doing, and
said I was to go on at once.... I said I was going to wait a bit, there
was too much of a barrage.... Then he said, very offensively, he
couldn't help that ... my orders were to go on at once.... That annoyed
me, and I said I 'd see him damned first, and told him if it was so
urgent he could take the party up himself if he liked.... But he didn't,
naturally ... no reason why he should.... Then he rang up Philpott and
told him that he had seen the officer in charge and some of the party
_running down the road--demoralized_. So he had, of course,--he saw me
running for the dug-out ... though the joke of it is--the joke of it
is ... _he was sheltering there himself_!' And at the enormity of that
joke Harry went off into that hideous laughter again. 'He said I refused
to obey orders, and asked for instructions. Philpott said it was too late
now, the stuff had been wanted by midnight.... He told Burnett to put me
under arrest ... and come back.

'That's what happened,' he went on, 'and I don't care--only I wish it
had been anybody but Burnett--though I suppose he was quite right; but
it makes no odds ... I _had_ got the wind-up, and I _had_ failed with
the party, and I don't deny it ... even if I wasn't really running when
he saw me.... One thing I _can_ say--if I did have the wind-up I've
never had cold feet--till that night.... I'm glad I came out this time
if I did fail at the pinch.... Burnett wouldn't have.... I knew I was
done when I came ... and I know I'm done now.

'But I wish you'd just explain it all to Peggy and the people who don't
know.'

And that is what I am trying to do.



XII


The Court-Martial was held in an old farm lying just outside the
village. There was a large courtyard where the chickens clucked all day,
and children and cattle roamed unchecked in the spacious midden. The
court-room was unusually suitable to its purpose, being panelled all
round in some dark wood with great black beams under a white-washed
ceiling, high and vaulted, and an open hearth where the dry wood
crackled heartlessly all day. Usually these trials are conducted in the
best bedroom of some estaminet, and the Court sits defensively with a
vast white bed at their backs. But this room was strangely dignified and
legal: only at first Madame persisted in marching through it with
saucepans to the kitchen--all these curious English functions were the
same to her, a Christmas dinner, or a mess-meeting, or the trial of a
soldier for his life.

The Court impressed me rather favourably--a Major-General, and four
others. The Major-General, who was President of the Court, was a square,
fatherly-looking person, with a good moustache, and rather hard blue
eyes. He had many rows of ribbons, so many that as I looked at them from
a dark corner at the back, they seemed like some regiment of coloured
beetles, paraded in close column of companies. All these men were very
excellently groomed: 'groomed' is the right word, for indeed they
suggested a number of well-fed horses; all their skins were bright, and
shiny, and well kept, and the leather of their Sam Brownes, and their
field boots, and jingling spurs, and all their harness were beautiful
and glistening in the firelight. I once went over the royal stables at
Madrid. And when all these glossy creatures jingled heavily up to their
table I was reminded of that. They sat down and pawed the floor
restively with their well-polished hoofs, cursing in their hearts
because they had been brought so far 'to do some damned court-martial.'
But all their faces said, 'Thank God, at least I have had my oats
to-day.'

And there was an atmosphere of greyness about them. The hair of some of
them was splashed with grey; the faces of most of them were weathered
and grey; and one felt that the opinions of all of them were grey, but
not weathered.

For they were just men, according to their views. They would do the
thing conscientiously, and I could not have hoped for a better Court.
But as judges they held the fatal military heresy, that the forms and
procedure of Military Law are the best conceivable machinery for the
discovery of truth. It was not their fault; they had lived with it from
their youth. And since it is really a form of conceit, the heresy had
this extension, that they themselves, and men like them, blunt, honest,
straightforward men, were the best conceivable ministers for the
discovery of truth--and they needed no assistance. Any of them would
have told you, 'Damn it, sir, there's nothing fairer to the prisoner
than a Field General Court-Martial'; and if you read the books or
witness the trial of a soldier for some simple 'crime,' you will agree.
But given a complex case, where testimony is at all doubtful, where
there are cross-currents and hidden animosities, the 'blunt, honest' men
are lost.

To begin with, being in their own view all-seeing and all-just, they
consider the Prisoner's Friend to be superfluous: and if he attempts any
genuine advocacy they cannot stomach the sight of him. 'Prisoner's
Friend be damned!' they will tell you, 'the Prosecutor does all that!
and anything he doesn't find out the Court will.' Now the Prosecutor is
indeed charged with the duty of 'bringing out anything in the favour of
the Accused': that is to say, if Private Smith after looting his
neighbour becomes afterwards remorseful and returns his loot to its
owner, the Prosecutor will ask questions to establish the fact. In a
case like Harry's it means practically nothing. The Prosecutor will not
cross-examine a shifty or suspicious witness--dive into his motives--get
at the secret history of the business, first, because it is not his job,
and secondly, because being as a rule only the adjutant of his
battalion, he does not know how.

The Court will not do this, because they do not know anything about the
secret history, and they are incapable of imagining any; because they
believe implicitly that any witness, officer or man (except perhaps the
accused), is a blunt, honest, straightforward man like themselves, and
incapable of deception or concealment.

This is the job of the Prisoner's Friend. Now 'The Book' lays down very
fairly that if he be an officer, or otherwise qualified, Prisoner's
Friend shall have all the rights of defending counsel in a civil court.
In practice, the 'blunt men' often make nothing of this safeguard. Many
courts I have been before had never heard of the provision; many, having
heard of it, refused flatly to recognize it, or insisted that all
questions should be put _through them_. When they do recognize the
right, they are immediately prejudiced against the prisoner if that
right is exercised. Any attempt to discredit or genuinely cross-examine
a witness is regarded as a rather sinister piece of 'cleverness'; and if
the Prisoner's Friend ventures to sum up the evidence in the accused's
favour at the end--it is too often 'that damned lawyer-stuff.' Usually
it is safer for a prisoner to abandon his rights altogether in that
respect.

But that should not be in a case like Harry's. The question of counsel
was vital in his case. I make no definite charges against Philpott and
Burnett. All I say is that it was _unfortunate_ that the two men most
instrumental in bringing Harry to trial should have been the only two
men with whom he had ever had any bitterness during his whole military
career. It was specially unfortunate that Burnett should be the first
and principal accuser, when you remembered that almost the last time
Harry had seen Burnett he had shown courage where Burnett had shown
cowardice, and thus humiliated him. This case could have been passed
over; hundreds such have been passed over, and on their merits, from any
human standpoint, rightly. Why was this one dragged up and sent stinking
to the mandarins? Well, one possible answer was--'Look at the history of
these three men.' And in the light of that history I say that Philpott
and Burnett should have been ruthlessly cross-examined by a really able
man, till the very heart of them both lay bare. Whether the issue would
have been different I don't know, but at least there would have been
some justice on both sides. And it may even be that a trained lawyer
could not only have got at the heart of the matter, but also prevailed
upon the Court not to be prejudiced against him by his getting at it.
For that brings you back to the real trouble. I could have done it
myself and gladly; if any one knew anything about these men, I did. But
if I, acting for Harry, had really cross-examined Burnett, asked him
suddenly what _he_ was doing in that dug-out, and when he hesitated,
suggested that he too was sheltering, and quite rightly, because the
fire was so heavy; or if I brought out the history of that night at
Gallipoli, and suggested that the animosity between the two men might
both explain Harry's conduct in the dug-out, and account for Burnett
having made the charge in the first place, thus throwing some doubt on
the value of his evidence--all that would have been 'cleverness.' And if
I had suggested that Philpott himself, my C.O., might have some slight
spite against the accused, or asked him why he had applied for a
Court-Martial on this case after hushing up so many worse ones, I think
the Court would have become apoplectic with horror at the sacrilege.

Then again it had been fixed that Travers should be Prisoner's Friend;
he knew more about the Papers and the Summary of Evidence, and so on,
than any one (though as the papers had only been sent down the morning
before, he did not know a great deal). So we left it at that. Travers
was a young law student in private life, but constitutionally timid of
authority, and he made no great show, in spite of the efforts of the
Deputy Judge Advocate, a person supposed to assist everybody. But, as I
have said, perhaps it was as well.

For what they thought of as the 'hard facts of the case' were all that
mattered to the Court, and as related by Philpott and Burnett and
Peters, they were pretty damning. That bit about the 'running' was
fatal. It made a great impression. Both the Prosecutor and two of the
Court asked Burnett, 'Are you sure he was _running_?' If he had only
been _walking_ away from the enemy it would have made so much
difference!

Travers did ask Burnett why was he in the dug-out entrance; and it
showed you what a mockery any kind of cross-examination would have been.
In the absence of short-hand writers every question and almost every
answer was written down, word for word, by the Deputy Judge Advocate.
After a question was put there was a lengthy pause while the officer
wrote; then there was some uncertainty and some questions about the
exact form of the question. Had Travers said, 'Why were you in the
dug-out?' or 'Why did you go to the dug-out?' Finally, all being
satisfactorily settled and written down, the witness was allowed to
answer. But by then the shiftiest witness had had time to invent a dozen
suitable answers. No liar could possibly be caught out--no deceiver ever
be detected--under this system. That was 'being fair to the witness.'

Burnett answered, of course, that he had gone there to inquire if the
working-party had been seen.

To do Burnett justice, he did not seem at all happy at having to tell
his tale again. If his original report had really been made under a
sudden impulse of spite and revenge (and, however that may be, he could
certainly have made a very different report), I think perhaps he had not
realized how far the matter would go--had not imagined that it would
come to a Court-Martial, and now regretted it. But it was too late. He
could not eat his words. And that was the devil of it. Burnett might
have made a different report; Philpott could have 'arranged things' with
the Brigade--could have had Harry sent to the Base on the ground of his
record and medical condition, and not have applied for a Court-Martial.
But once those 'hard facts' came before the Court, to be examined under
that procedure, simply as 'hard facts'--an officer ordered up with a
party and important stores; some of the party scattered; officer seen
running, _running_, mind you--in the wrong direction; officer 'shaken'
on the evidence of his men, and refusing to obey an order--it was too
late to wonder whether the case should ever have come there. That was
Philpott's business. _He_ did not seem disturbed. He even
mentioned--casually--that 'there had been a similar incident with this
officer once before, when his conduct with a working-party by no means
satisfied me.' Quite apart from the monstrous misrepresentation of the
thing, the statement was wholly inadmissible at that stage, and the
President stopped him. But that also was too late. It had sunk in....

And so the evidence went slowly on, unshaken--not that it was all
unshakable; no one tried to shake it.

After Philpott came Peters, the N.C.O., a good fellow.

He told the Court what Harry had said about 'going back to wait a bit,'
instead of going straight on when the party collected again.

They asked him, 'Was there any reason why the party should not have gone
on then?'

'Well, sir,' he said, 'the shelling was bad, and we should have had some
casualties, but I daresay we should have got through. I've seen as bad
before.'

Then there was one of the men who had been with Harry, a good fellow,
who hated being there. He told the story of the movements of the party
with the usual broken irrelevances, but by his too obvious wish to help
Harry did him no good. When asked 'in what condition' the officer was,
he said, 'Well, sir, he seemed to have lost his nerve, like ... we all
of us had as far as that goes, the shelling was that 'eavy.' But that
was no defence for Harry.

Harry could either 'make a statement' not on oath, or give evidence on
oath and be cross-examined. He chose the latter--related simply the
movements of the party and himself, and did not deny any of the facts of
which evidence had already been given.

'When you had collected the party under the bank by this corner you
speak of,' said the President, 'why did you not then proceed with the
party?'

'I thought the shelling was too heavy, sir, just then; I thought it
would be better to go back and wait a bit where there was more cover
till the shelling got less....'

'But Sergeant Peters says the party would probably have got through?'

'Yes, sir.'

'In view of the orders you had received, wouldn't it have been better to
go straight on?'

'I don't know, sir--perhaps it would.'

'Then why didn't you do that?'

'At the time, sir, I thought it best to go back and wait.'

'And that was what you were doing when you were seen--er, running to the
dug-out?'

'Yes, sir.'

Well, the Court did not believe it, and I cannot blame them. For I knew
that Harry was not being perfectly ingenuous. I knew that he _could_ not
have gone on....

Yet it was a reasonable story. And if the Court had been able to imagine
themselves in Harry's condition of mind and body, crouching in the wet
dark under that bank, faint with weariness and fear, shaken with those
blinding, tearing concussions, not knowing what they should do, or what
they _could_ do, perhaps they would have said in their hearts, 'I will
believe that story.' But they could not imagine it. For they were
naturally stout-hearted men, and they had not seen too much war. They
were not young enough.

And, indeed, it was not their business to imagine that....

Another of the Court asked: 'Is it true to say, as Private Mallins said,
that you had--ah--lost your nerve?'

'Well, sir, I had the wind-up-pretty badly; one usually does at that
corner--and I've had too much of it.'

'I see.'

I wondered if he did see--if he had ever had 'too much of it.'

Harry said nothing about Burnett; nothing about Philpott; probably it
would have done no good. And as he told me afterwards, 'The real charge
was that I'd lost my nerve--and so I had. And I don't want to wangle out
of it like that.'

That was the end of it. They were kind enough, those grey men; they did
not like the job, and they wanted only to do their duty. But they
conceived that their duty was 'laid down in The Book,' to look at the
'hard facts,' and no further. And the 'hard facts' were very hard....

The Court was closed while they considered their verdict; it was closed
for forty minutes, and when it reopened they asked for evidence of
character. And that meant that the verdict was 'Guilty.' On the only
facts they had succeeded in discovering it could hardly have been
anything else.

The Adjutant put in formal evidence of Harry's service, age, record, and
so on; and I was allowed to give evidence of character.

I told them simply the sort of fighting record he had, about Gallipoli,
and the scouting, and the job he had refused in England.

I am glad to believe that I did him a little good; for that evening it
got about somehow that he was recommended to mercy.

And perhaps they remembered that he was twenty-three.



XIII


That evening I sat in C Company mess for an hour and talked with them
about the trial. They were very sad and upset at this thing happening in
the regiment, but they were reasonable and generous, not like those D
Company pups, Wallace and the other. For they were older men, and had
nearly all been out a long time. Only one of them annoyed me, a fellow
in the thirties, making a good income in the City, who had only joined
up just before he had to under the Derby scheme, and had been out a
month. This fellow was very strong on 'the honour of the regiment'; and
seemed to think it desirable for that 'honour' that Harry should be
shot. Though how the honour of the regiment would be thereby advanced,
or what right he had to speak for it, I could not discover.

But the others were sensible, balanced men, and as perplexed and
troubled as I. I had been thinking over a thing that Harry had said in
his talk with me--'If I did have the wind-up I've never had cold feet.'
It is a pity one cannot avoid these horrible terms, but one cannot. I
take it that 'wind-up'--whatever the origin of that extraordinary
expression may be--signifies simply 'fear.' 'Cold feet' also signifies
fear, but, as I understand it, has an added implication in it of _base
yielding_ to that fear. I told them about this distinction of Harry's,
and asked them what they thought.

'That's it,' said Smith, 'that's just the damned shame of the whole
thing. There are lots of men who are simply terrified the whole time
they're out, but just go on sticking it by sheer guts--will-power, or
whatever you like--that's having the wind-up, and you can't prevent it.
It just depends how you're made. I suppose there really are some people
who don't feel fear at all--that fellow Drake, for example--though I'm
not sure that there are many. Anyhow, if there are any they don't
deserve much credit though they do get the V.C.'s. Then there are the
people who feel fear like the rest of us and don't make any effort to
resist it, don't join up or come out, and when they have to, go back
after three months with a blighty one, and get a job, and stay
there----'

'And when they are here wangle out of all the dirty jobs,' put in
Foster.

'Well, they're the people with "cold feet" if you like,' Smith went on,
'and as you say, Penrose has never been like that. Fellows like him keep
on coming out time after time, getting worse wind-up every time, but
simply kicking themselves out until they come out once too often, and
stop one, or break up suddenly like Penrose, and----'

'And the question is--ought any man like that to be shot?' asked Foster.

'Ought any one who _volunteers_ to fight for his----country be shot?'
said another.

'Damn it, yes,' said Constable; he was a square, hard-looking old boy, a
promoted N.C.O., and a very useful officer. 'You must have some sort of
standard--or where would the army be?'

'I don't know,' said Foster, 'look at the Australians--they don't have a
death-penalty, and I reckon they're as good as us.'

'Yes, my son, perhaps that's the reason'--this was old Constable
again--'the average Australian is naturally a sight stouter-hearted than
the average Englishman--they don't need it.'

'Then why the hell do they punish Englishmen worse than Australians, if
they can't even be _expected_ to do so well?' retorted Foster; but this
piece of dialectics was lost on Constable.

'Anyhow, I don't see that it need be such an absolute standard,' Smith
began again, thoughtfully; he was a thoughtful young fellow. 'They don't
expect everybody to have equally strong arms or equally good brains; and
if a chap's legs or arms aren't strong enough for him to go on living in
the trenches they take him out of it (if he's lucky). But every man's
expected to have equally strong nerves in all circumstances, and to _go
on having them_ till he goes under; and when he goes under they don't
consider how far his nerves, or guts, or whatever you call it, were as
good as other people's. Even if he had nerves like a chicken to begin
with he's expected to behave as a man with nerves like a lion or a Drake
would do....'

'A man with nerves like a chicken is a damned fool to go into the
infantry at all,' put in Williams--'the honour of the regiment' person.

'Yes, but he may have had a will-power like a lion, and simply made
himself do it.'

'You'd be all right, Smith,' somebody said, 'if you didn't use such long
words; what the hell do you mean by an absolute standard?'

'Sorry, George, I forgot you were so ignorant. What I mean is this. Take
a case like Penrose's: All they ask is, was he seen running the wrong
way, or not going the right way? If the answer is Yes--the punishment is
death, _et cetera, et cetera_. To begin with, as I said, they don't
consider whether he was _capable_ physically or mentally--I don't know
which it is--of doing the right thing. And then there are lots of other
things which _we_ know make one man more "windy" than another, or
windier to-day than he was yesterday--things like being a married man,
or having boils, or a bad cold, or being just physically weak, so that
you get so exhausted you haven't got any strength left to resist your
fears (I've had that feeling myself)--none of those things are
considered _at all_ at a court-martial--and I think they ought to be.'

'No,' said Foster, 'they ought to be considered _before_ they decide to
have a court-martial at all. A case like Penrose's never ought to have
got so far.'

'You're right--I don't know why the devil it did.'

'After all,' said Williams, 'you've got to consider the name of the
regiment. What would happen----'

But I could not stand any more of that. 'I think Smith's on the right
line,' I said, 'though I don't know if it would ever be workable. There
are, of course, lots of fellows who _feel_ things far more than most of
us, sensitive, imaginative fellows, like poor Penrose--and it must be
hell for them. Of course there are some men like that with enormously
strong wills who manage to stick it out as well as anybody, and do
awfully well--I should think young Aston, for instance--and those I call
the _really_ brave men. Anyhow, if a man like that really does stick it
as long as he can, I think something ought to be done for him, though
I'm damned if I know what. He oughtn't....'

'He oughtn't to be _allowed_ to go on too long--that's what it comes
to,' said Smith.

'Well, what do you want,' Foster asked, 'a kind of periodical Wind-up
Examination?'

'That's the kind of thing, I suppose. It _is_ a medical question,
really. Only the doctors don't seem to recognize--or else they aren't
allowed to--any stage between absolute shell-shock, with your legs
flying in all directions, and just ordinary skrim-shanking.'

'But damn it, man,' Constable exploded, 'look at the skrim-shanking
you'll get if you have that sort of thing. You'd have all the mothers'
darlings in the kingdom saying they'd had enough when they got to the
Base.'

'Perhaps--no, I think that's silly. I don't know what it is that gives
you bad wind-up after a long time out here, nerves or imagination or
emotion or what, but it seems to me the doctors ought to be able to test
when a man's really had enough; just as they tell whether a man's knee
or a man's heart are really bad or not. You'd have to take his record
into account, of course....'

'And you'd have to make it a compulsory test,' said Smith, 'because
nowadays no one's going to go into a Board and say, "Look here, doctor,
I've been out so long and I can't stand any more." They'd send you out
in the next draft!'

'Compulsory both ways,' added Foster: 'when they'd decided he'd done
enough, and wasn't _safe_ any longer, he oughtn't to be _allowed_ to do
any more--because he's dangerous to himself and everybody else.'[1]

[Footnote 1: It is only fair to say that, long after the supposed date
of this conversation, a system of sending 'war-weary' soldiers home for
six months at a time was instituted, though I doubt if Foster would have
been satisfied with that.]

'As a matter of fact,' said Williams, 'that's what usually does happen,
doesn't it? When a chap gets down and out like that after a decent spell
of it, he usually gets a job at home--instructor at the Depot, or
something.'

'Yes, and then you get a fellow with the devil of a conscience like
Penrose--and you have a nasty mess like this.'

'And what about the men?' asked Constable. 'Are you going to have the
same thing for them?'

'Certainly--only, thank God, there are not so many of them who need it.
All that chat you read about the "wonderful fatalism" of the British
soldier is so much bunkum. It simply means that most of them are not
cursed with an imagination, and so don't worry about what's coming.'

'That's true; you don't see many fatalists in the middle of a big
strafe.'

'Of course there _are_ lots of them who _are_ made like Penrose, and
with a record like his, something----'

'And it's damned lucky for the British Army there are not more of them,'
put in Constable.

'Certainly, but it's damned unlucky for them to be in the British
Army--in the infantry, anyhow.'

'And what does that matter?'

'Oh, well, you can take that line if you like--but it's a bit Prussian,
isn't it?'

'Prussia's winning this dirty war, anyhow, at present.'

So the talk rambled on, and we got no further, only most of us were in
troubled agreement that something--perhaps many things--were wrong about
the System, if this young volunteer, after long fighting and suffering,
was indeed to be shot like a traitor in the cold dawn.

Nine times out of ten, as Williams had said, we knew that it would not
have happened, simply because nine men out of ten surrender in time. But
ought the tenth case to be even remotely possible? That was our doubt.

What exactly was wrong we could not pretend to say. It was not our
business. But if this was the best the old men could do, we felt that we
could help them a little. I give you this scrap of conversation only to
show the kind of feeling there was in the regiment--because that is the
surest test of the rightness of these things.

They were still at it when I left. And as I went out wearily into the
cold drizzle I heard Foster summing up his views with: 'Well, the whole
thing's damned awful. They've recommended him to mercy, haven't they?
and I hope to God he gets it.'


II

But he got no mercy. The sentence was confirmed by the higher
authorities.

I cannot pretend to _know_ what happened, but from some experience of
the military hierarchy I can imagine. I can see those papers, wrapped up
in the blue form, with all the right information beautifully inscribed
in the right spaces, very neat and precise, carefully sealed in the long
envelopes, and sent wandering up through the rarefied atmosphere of the
Higher Formations. Very early they halt, at the Brigadier, or perhaps
the Divisional General, some one who thinks of himself as a man of
'blood and iron.' He looks upon the papers. He reads the evidence--very
carefully. At the end he sees 'Recommended to Mercy.'--'All very well,
but we must make an example sometimes. Where's that confidential memo.
we had the other day? That's it, yes. "Officer who fails in his duty
must be treated with the same severity as would be awarded to private in
the same circumstances." Quite right too. Shan't approve recommendation
to mercy. Just write on it, "See no reason why sentence should not be
carried out," and I'll sign it.'--Or, more simply perhaps: 'Mercy! mercy
be damned! must make an example. I won't have any cold feet in my
Command.' And so the blue form goes climbing on, burdened now with that
fatal endorsement, labouring over ridge after ridge, and on each
successive height the atmosphere becomes more rarefied (though the
population is more numerous). And at long last it comes to some Olympian
peak--I know not where--beyond which it may not go, where the air is so
chill and the population so dense, that it is almost impossible to
breathe. Yet here, I make no doubt, they look at the Blue Form very
carefully and gravely, as becomes the High Gods. But in the end they
shake their heads, a little sadly, maybe, and say, 'Ah, General
B---- does not approve recommendation to mercy. He's the man on the
spot, he ought to know. _Must_ support _him_. Sentence confirmed.'

Then the Blue Form climbs sadly down to the depths again, to the low
regions where men feel fear....

       *       *       *       *       *

The thing was done seven mornings later, in a little orchard behind the
Casquettes' farm.

The Padre told me he stood up to them very bravely and quietly. Only he
whispered to him, 'For God's sake make them be quick.' That is the worst
torment of the soldier from beginning to end--the waiting....


III

After three months I had some leave and visited Mrs. Harry. I had to.
But I shall not distress you with an account of that interview. I will
not even pretend that she was 'brave.' How could she be? Only, when I
had explained things to her, as Harry had asked, she said: 'Somehow,
that does make it easier for me--and I only wish--I wish you could tell
everybody--what you have told me.'

And again I say, that is all I have tried to do. This book is not an
attack on any person, on the death penalty, or on anything else, though
if it makes people think about these things, so much the better. I think
I believe in the death penalty--I don't know. But I did not believe in
Harry being shot.

That is the gist of it; that my friend Harry was shot for cowardice--and
he was one of the bravest men I ever knew.





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